How Corporate Anthropology Can Rescue Your Floundering Company

If you’ve read any of my blogs lately, you may have picked up on the fact that I get really energized by talking about how corporate anthropology can help businesses see themselves with fresh eyes, identify areas where they are “stuck,” and put in motion new processes in order to successfully get going again. 

So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to speak about this very topic in a recent interview with best-selling author, international keynote speaker and senior executive coach John Mattone. Specifically, John wanted to know about corporate culture from an anthropological perspective and how this knowledge can be used to help facilitate organizational change. My specialty!

To hopefully help you as you look for ways to get your company “unstuck” and growing again, I offer here a synopsis of our conversation. You can access the entire interview here.

What exactly is a corporate anthropologist and how can this type of expert help companies?

This was John’s first question, which led to a great discussion of how companies of all sizes are really small-scale communities with cultural values, beliefs and ways of doing things that are “sacred” to them. 

It is through storytelling sessions, culture probes and observational research that you can understand what people are “really” doing, and that’s where a “little anthropology” comes in. Corporate anthropologists (like myself) can dig deeper into how your employees connect with your customers to solve their needs. We can also help you better realize what your product means to the individual, their social group and the society of which they are a part. For companies, this is invaluable information as they plot a course for future growth.

If you are trying to find out who is using your product, how are they using it and if they are happy with it, you can’t just survey them, because people can’t tell you what they are doing or why. They typically just tell you what they think you want to hear. That’s why you need to go out exploringwhat we call “hanging out”—where you watch, listen and observe.

How Blue Ocean Strategy® benefits corporate leaders

Next, John wanted to learn more about Blue Ocean Strategy, the revolutionary marketing theory that catalyzes business growth by creating uncontested market space and making the competition irrelevant. Developed by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne and described in their widely-praised book Blue Ocean Strategy, BOS is an anthropological approach to identifying new markets, customers’ unmet needs and ways to expand into new market spaces that are not currently well-served.

As I told John, we at Simon Associates Management Consultants are certified Blue Ocean Strategists and use its methods and tools with a great many of our clients. As they learn to rethink their strategies, they discover ways to open new, previously-unthought-of markets which enables them to return to growth and profitability.

What’s the worst thing a CEO could do to change the culture of an organization

This was a very interesting question. My answer? To give the task to HR. At SAMC, we are often called in when a new president has come into a company and decided the culture has to change. Rather than assuming responsibility for the transformation, he or she gives it to an HR person who typically knows little about the current culture, knows even less about how to change a culture, and has no training in how to actually get an organization to change. The result? Usually, disaster.

What should happen is that the business leader recognizes that cultures—even those in their own organizations—are resistant to change (change is pain) and that unless his staff sees what changes are needed with their own eyes, they will dispute the need to change and stick to their old ways of doing things. Culture change is disruptive and few know how to bring it about comfortably. Most important is a clear, concise process for moving an organization’s culture from one style to another, perhaps from a very rules-driven hierarchy to a much more engaged, collaborative and innovative culture. Once CEOs decide what they want their company culture to become, they need to make those changes actually happen. They cannot just say it.

The time of great disruption is now.

In today’s global economy, success is coming from the great accelerators that are driving businesses to continuously assess their models from all perspectives: from customers, services, pricing, marketing and people. It might seem difficult to move that quickly and keep your strategy under continuous evaluation but it is necessary when things emerge, surge and purge in a very short timeframe.

The real challenge for all companies is to have a strategy and a culture willing to have good metrics and data analysis to see what is working, how your business is growing or shrinking, and how to adjust often and quickly to those shifts. With the right analytics, abundant data and the ability to create solutions that can be tested quickly, companies can once again see themselves as innovative entrepreneurs, as opposed to those that rely on the “way we have always done it.” CEOs everywhere, take note.

Is your corporate culture holding you back rather than propelling you forward? How about a free consultation.

Has your business stalled? Is your corporate culture part of the problem? Do you even know what your culture is? Perhaps a free 1-hour corporate culture consultation with us could help you and your management team “see, feel and think” in new ways about how to grow your business. Please contact us. 

From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants