Here is one very interesting thing about writing, it happens in fits and starts and it never goes in the direction you think it will go in. I guess many creative types use the words “organic process” but what they really mean is they started with one idea and while working on it another idea came and took precedence. That new idea is the focus. When I get an idea I write it down, well type it down is a more precise description. I will jot it on one of the pages of the myriad notebooks I keep around for notes, and to keep my calorie counting logs. Sorry fitness app developers, the pen and paper for this Gen X’r hasn’t been replaced just yet.
This morning, after a tremendously long hiatus I went back to the long form (book) outline and started reworking it based on the direction the blog went in. Now that i’ve got a couple of years of writing behind me I have sort of a flow. I introduce a problem or issue, I explore it, and I usually try to provide an interesting solution or maybe just a bit of humor. The point is i’m always thinking about how my writing will provide value to you, my readers and podcast listeners. – thanks for being here by the way, I appreciate it. While working on outlining the ‘solutions’ section I came across the idea, an analogy really, of anchoring. I was thinking about how valuable anchoring has been for me and how it is a tremendous tool to get through today’s professional work environment. I also thought about the concept that by considering pulling up my anchors to move on i’m putting myself in a precarious situation by losing the stability the anchoring lines bring me.
So what is anchoring?
Anchoring is getting involved beyond your typical job duties. The involvement can be expansive or just strategic. There is a grey area here as anchoring is a behavior that is part of the brute force attack for career ascendence. The person using the brute force strategy to go up the ladder takes every opportunity to jump on every project as well as driving their skills through the roof through education and credentialing, whether it’s needed or not. The idea with the brute force attack is to make themselves the obvious and only logical choice for the next jump. It’s really the professional version of ‘paying their dues’ to get into the leadership club. The anchoring i’m talking about is a subset of this. It doesn’t have to be every single thing, but the more anchor lines you have the better off you are.
So what is anchoring? Simply put, it’s when you connect yourself to a stable point in or around your organization. I visualize it similar to the anchor’s I used to use on my Dad’s boat when we went fishing in the everglades when I was a kid. We would always go to Holiday Park to put the boat in the water. This was decades before the place became famous via the Gator Boys reality show. Dad would put the boat in the water and we’d travel down the canals until we’d get to one of many fishing holes we would like. He’d pull the boat up so we could cast into the hole from the outside allowing for the best possible fishing by the most possible positions on the boat. The problem was that the wind would usually blow us into the sawgrass in a manner of minutes. If Dad put only one anchor in the water the wind would whip the boat around so half the people on the boat couldn’t cast or if they did, would get their line tangled with someone else’s. Dad would eventually be forced to put an anchor out in the front of the boat and one in the back. By the time both anchors were out we were pretty stable. My brother, a highly competitive individual even as a child, would then be able to show us all how he could catch the most fish of anyone. Annoyingly enough, he usually did catch the more than us but I digress.
Anchoring in the professional world works much the same way. It doesn’t have to be dozens of lines and you don’t need to have the world’s most advanced fish finder (which is analogous to the brute force attack of career growth). Anchoring is just a couple of important and well placed lines to keep you sort of stable. Even if you have a good line in your department the organizational winds of change may whip you around a bit and the line may break, but if you have a few good lines you are probably going to stick around for a while, organizational hurricanes notwithstanding.
Anchoring takes time.
Anchoring takes time in a couple of ways. The first way is actual chronological time; time out of your day or time after hours. It always takes time to do the special projects your team may be apart of. Generally speaking your regular tasks don’t subside to help you meet the time needed for being involved. If your emails come in you still have to respond to them and if the phone rings you still have to pick it up. Yet to make the strong connections that really are the stabilizing force of the organizational anchor you need to really take part in the task group. You can’t be one of the ones who shows up at the meeting, maybe makes a comment and then goes back to your office to ignore everything until the next meeting.
Proper anchoring takes time in a different way. Depending on the organization there may be a culture of special projects and an expectation of involvement. It will take time to realize the flow of the organization. To understand what projects are worth your time, that make strong connections and are stabilizing, and which ones don’t work. Going back to the boat analogy, if you throw your anchor in the wrong place it wouldn’t connect with anything and your boat would still move with the wind then you have to haul the anchor back into the boat and try again in a different area. You want to avoid that. There is simply no way to know what groups, internal or external to the organization, tend to be the ones that are more influential and which ones are just vanity projects or some stuff that’s getting thrown at the wall. The only way to figure that out takes time and a purposeful awareness of your corporate environment.
Anchoring creates lines of support.
Once true benefit of being involved in these types of groups and projects goes back to our old friend: Mr. Networking. The key to networking is that people who wouldn’t get to know you now do know you. Organizations and business decision making can be heartless but people generally aren’t. We all want to help the next guy or gal. Support can be information or resources. Let’s assume your on the employe morale committee with Angela from Accounting. In response to your idea for a departmental ice cream social, Ms. Angela may give you a heads up that next year’s budget for your department is in flux allowing you to prepare accordingly. On the flip side if your putting together a presentation on a proposed growth project she can get you some other average numbers so you can help have a better chance of getting the greenlight. If you don’t know Angela, then you may be left with a just a wet finger in the air guess, or worse maybe the finger smells less pleasant because you pulled the needed information from someplace else. If your a coordinator in a larger organization you would never have gotten to know her if you didn’t agree to be on the committee.
Anchoring is sticky, it helps you keep your job.
Actual leadership, the kind of leadership that’s focused full time on things such as personal deployment, aligning resources to different groups, acquiring information and making decisions that affect the lives of the people is generally rare because of the ever flattening organizational charts. That being said companies and large organizations simply can’t do away with leadership entirely no matter how much AI improves. There always needs to be someone who can collect and assess data and then make those bigger decisions. As organizations get leaner and leaner more and more individual contributors fill more roles. If there are connections that are apart of these roles then there is value to those connections.
What if a manager is tasked with reducing headcount in the CAD department and there are two CAD operators both with comparable skills? One has a masters degree and is a quality employee at their task and the other only has the certificate but is a long term and active member of the company’s smart design task force which is inclusive of staff and leaders from every department. Who gets cut? In my experience the more connected member with the lower credentials has a better chance of surviving the layoff. There are always variables in every decision but there is absolutely a ‘stickiness’ that comes with the anchor line even in challenging times. The more anchors, the more stable your position. Don’t forget that the person who has to make the layoff decision knows they will be asked why they chose you by members of every group you are apart of.
Anchoring can also get you stuck.
Like it’s real life counterpart, your anchor’s can get you stuck. This can happen a couple of ways. Internal to the organization your connections may be valuable and restrict your upward mobility. Think about this for a second. Let’s say you have a great relationship with your boss and work closely with them. You are knowledgeable and on that all important industry committee that really adds value to what you and your team is doing. Your boss will be loath to lose you even if they know you would like to get a promotion of some sort or other. Remember my comment about business decisions earlier. If the boss knows the department or company may suffer if they help you with your career advancement there is a dis-incentive for them to help you move on.
Anyone who’s ever used a boat anchor that got pulled under a rock or a piece of coral knows this. If after tugging at the line interminably without dislodging it, you wind up with two options. Option 1 is getting wet, and if you didn’t wear a bathing suit wet clothing is uncomfortable. Option two is cutting the line and losing the anchor permanently. Neither is a pleasant option. It’s the same in the professional world. You either create an uncomfortable situation with your boss or you cut one of the support lines by leaving the group.
Organizations try to be nimble, they try to be flexible. They try to change as the market or environment demands. This environmental change can rock your boat pretty wildly. It goes without saying that If you don’t have an anchor your less connected and less stable. In the aforementioned example of the CAD operator who didn’t have anchors, they may not only be in the dark about which way things are flowing but they most likely are more worried about falling out of the boat when the going gets a bit rocky. If your in the boat to fish, you gotta go fishing and you don’t want to fool with the anchors the entire time but an anchor is tremendously valuable, when fishing and in your career. So be careful, think about and proceed with your anchor’s to keep your work life stable. Who knows, if your stable then maybe you’ll be positioned to snag the next big career catch.