Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 12;   March 23, 2011: Indicators of Lock-In: Part I

Indicators of Lock-In: Part I

by

In group decision-making, lock-in occurs when the group persists in adhering to its chosen course even though superior alternatives exist. Lock-in can be disastrous for problem-solving organizations. What are some common indicators of lock-in?
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker, Republican of Wisconsin. In early 2011, Gov. Walker filed a so-called budget repair bill that he said was made necessary by a budgetary crisis of Wisconsin state government. The bill would have reduced compensation and benefits for several categories of state workers and rescinded the collective bargaining rights of unions that, coincidentally, had not supported the Governor's candidacy in the previous election. Even though the unions agreed to all concessions relating to compensation and benefits, the governor would not accept their agreement and refused to amend his filing to remove the collective bargaining provisions. The standoff deepened as representatives of the opposition in the upper chamber of the legislature fled the state to prevent the quorum necessary for a vote, and the standoff became one between the opposition legislators and the Governor.

At this writing the standoff continues. Although one cannot know for certain as an outside observer whether lock-in has set in on one side or the other or both, many of the indicators of lock-in are present. Photo courtesy the state of Wisconsin.

Lock-in is a phenomenon in decision-making in which we observe escalating commitment to a decision of inferior quality, or to a course of action demonstrably less effective than one or more alternatives. In organizations, vendor lock-in is a common form of this dysfunction. In IT organizations, vendor lock-in happens, for example, when the organization builds custom software solutions based on a particular proprietary software or hardware technology.

Lock-in has other forms. They can be more insidious than vendor lock-in because they are self-generated and more difficult to detect. One example from problem solving is solution lock-in, in which the problem solvers escalate their commitment to a particular solution even when superior solutions exist or might exist.

Here are some indicators of solution lock-in.

Escalating commitment
Escalating commitment is the psychological state in which we continue to support a decision with increasing levels of resources despite its repeated failure to achieve projected results. It's characterized by an irrational desire not to abandon the decision.
Escalating commitment can be difficult for the committed to recognize, because we cloak the irrationality of the compulsion to continue in a series of rational-sounding explanations: "We almost have it;" "We're 90% of the way there;" "Our recent breakthrough removes the last obstacle in our path;" "We've been under-resourced but we'll get it with just a bit more effort."
Sunk resources
When things aren't going well, and a growing minority begins to wonder whether we ought to scrap what we have and start over, some inevitably say, "We can't quit now — we have too much invested."
This is the "sunk resources" Escalating commitment can be difficult
for the committed to recognize, because
we cloak the irrationality of the
compulsion to continue in a series of
rational-sounding explanations
argument, and it often dominates. The appropriate reply — "let's not throw good money after bad" — often doesn't prevail until there is no more good money left to throw.
The prototype becomes the answer
Problem solvers sometimes create prototypes of possible solutions, originally intended simply to explore the solution space. Under pressure from Marketing, Sales or even senior management, these prototypes are often offered to customers, and eventually become the solution.
When this happens, little consideration is given to the question of whether they are good enough to become the solution. The organization just locks in, failing to provide resources to study other possible solutions.
Undervaluing open options
Groups that have too little regard for keeping their options open are more likely to lock in. This can be a result of the personal preferences of group members. Some prefer early closure, while others like to maintain alternatives.
A group dominated by the former is more at risk of lock-in. Lock-in behavior can also result from perceived pressure from outside or above. When the group resolves these perceptions by locking in, it is at risk of bypassing superior solutions.

Next time we'll explore indicators of lock-in that relate to the history of the decision-making group. Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Indicators of Lock-In: Part II  Next Issue

See "Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part II," Point Lookout for November 30, 2011, for a discussion of the connections between lock-in and confirmation bias.

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenInTRfLlFVQjWVjGLner@ChacjPwTjgOojNYiTJKGoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

An elephantTeam-Building Travails
Team-building is one of the most common forms of team "training." If only it were the most effective, we'd be in a lot better shape than we are. How can we get more out of the effort we spend building teams?
The Western Electric Plant at Hawthorne, IllinoisTen Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: Part II
Although many believe that "You get what you measure," metrics-based management systems sometimes produce disappointing results. In this Part II, we look at the effects of employee behavior.
The rabbit that went down the rabbit-holeOur Last Meeting Together
You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
U.S. Army troops wade ashore during the Normandy landingsReactance and Decision-Making
Some decisions are easy. Some are difficult. Some decisions that we think will be easy turn out to be very, very difficult. What makes decisions difficult?
A tire reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, FloridaManaging Hindsight Bias Risk
Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeComing April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016And on April 12: How to Listen to Someone Who's Dead Wrong
Sometimes we must listen attentively to someone with whom we strongly disagree. The urge to interrupt can be overpowering. How can we maintain enough self-control to really listen? Available here and by RSS on April 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenCZqpLDfYSmnayKcNner@ChacGnjHKIyOrUVazbtToCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.