Three Ways Corporate Anthropology Can Help Your Company Change

Photo courtesy

What the heck is corporate anthropology?

People often ask us: “What do you do?” and “How do you do anthropology?” They are familiar  (maybe) with anthropologists who work in small-scale societies in far away lands. My response: I tell them that companies or organizations in more complex societies are like those small-scale societies. We observe their interconnected networks, and the way people get their jobs done every day. They have many of the same dynamics as tribal or hunter-gatherer societies. They also have different ones which reflect how they have evolved into effective, or dysfunctional, organizations. Our job as corporate anthropologists is to help them “see, feel and think” in new ways to sustain their growth during these fast-changing times.

The next question is often: “How do we at SAMC apply anthropology’s theory, methods and tools to the societal groups in the businesses we work with as clients?”

Basically, we “hang out.” We become observers and listeners. Why is that? Because people often don’t see themselves clearly. They live the habits they have always done. At SAMC, we step back and watch what is happening. This perspective is captured through observational research, story listening sessions, and participant observations. Since we specialize in helping organizations adapt to change, we have mapped out a proprietary process which we can customize to each business’s particular needs.

To get a deeper understanding, listen to my podcast How Anthropology Helps People See Things With Fresh Eyes

In this podcast, the fifth episode in my Ask Andi series, I explain our three step process for appplying the principles of corporate anthropology to help an organization identify how they need to change to adapt to today’s rapidly shifting economic climate.

1. Organizational Culture Discovery Process. We begin by identifying how an organization’s internal culture is designed and how they might want to modify it as they adapt to new business environments. We do this by “deep hanging out.” (think Undercover Boss) We often use the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI) to help them assess their company culture and then define how they would like it to change or remain the same. Then we use our ChangeMap™ process to backward plan the steps they will take to change.

2. Research on Customers and Non-customers. As we apply the tools of anthropology to a company’s business challenges, we go out in the field with them or on our own to do anthropological research. Participant observation and observational research, in-depth storytelling, culture probes, and photography and videography — core methods of anthropology — enable us to better capture what employees and customers are doing. We are particularly interested in how clients or customers are using a company’s products, where there are real opportunities for enhancements, and how we might re-invent their products and services to reach both current users and non-users more effectively.

3. Listening and Observing Employees. We love to hang out with an organization’s employees. We tell our clients, Just listen to their stories, and you will learn a great deal. A company’s employees, and even their vendors, know a great deal about what is working well and what needs to change. Whether a business is booming or stalled, the people doing the work often have the best insights as to how to rethink its challenges and find better solutions. They know the customers, what they are asking about, and how they are adapting to changes in their business environments.

This process works really well when we bring our clients along with us. The more ideas they have, the more likely they will have big ideas, coming together at the intersections.

Two blogs about what we do and how it can help your business:

How can Simon Associates be of help to you?

Curious about how corporate anthropology can help you and your organization adapt to fast-changing times? Let’s talk. Contact us so we can get started.

From Observation to Innovation,

Andi Rethink
Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | Author | CEO Simon Associates Management Consultants