Reproduced from WAG Mag, Sept. 26, 2017
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but for Andrea Simon and husband Andrew, it’s the secret to their success.
The Yorktown Heights couple uses the techniques of corporate anthropology, a red-hot field since the start of the dot.com era, to help businesses and other organizations take a fresh look at their enterprises.
“We believe the ‘way forward is all around you,’ and our mantra is that we take observations and turn them into innovations,” says Andrea, a Ph.D. and former academic who founded Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC). “We both enjoy working with people. We also are very curious. At times it is hard to help someone see things in new ways, much less change their behaviors. The work is both hard but gratifying. When they have an ‘aha’ moment, we just smile.
“Anthropologists often say that we tinker with our observations and watch people or even participate, like the TV show ‘Undercover Boss,’” she adds. “Our approach is designed to help us better understand the clever, creative ways people do things, believe in things and share their stories. Then we try to find ways to help them so our company can add value to their lives innovatively.”
Andrea says they view their role for their clients as explorers. They take them out with them to explore, observe and “hang out.” Together they watch what is happening. “Then our job is to find unmet needs to be solved or nonusers who could use our client’s services. Rather than duplicate another company’s solutions, we find ways to add value….”
Andrea recommends reading your company’s emails, listening in on customer service calls and analyzing blogs about your field as the first step in changing the environment of your company, followed by listening sessions with clients and an evaluation of what needs to be improved through such tools as Blue Ocean Strategy, Innovation Games, Change Map and the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI).
“Everyone needs to become more innovative and collaborative and less bureaucratic and market-driven,” Andrea says, adding that the entire process is unfamiliar to most people. “In fact, people hire us to help them change — not because we sell a process called ‘anthropology.’”
Still, “It’s difficult to change people’s mindsets,” says Andrew, a former executive with L’Oréal and Citicorp who grew Questar Assessment Inc. into a highly successful competitor in the K-12 educational market and joined SAMC in 2011. He and Andrea observed that while their clients could see new opportunities, they had a difficult time executing their new strategies. So the couple began to stay around to help them, with Andrew launching their Inbound Marketing division.
One of the ways in which they help clients is through a more effective use of technology.
“Technology is transformative and making people change.” Andrea says. “Everyone is getting disrupted by something these days. There will be autonomous vehicles and robots on farm fields.”
She and Andrew have had a wide range of clients, including Marcal Paper, Centenary College, Montefiore Medical Center, Atlantic Health Systems, Elkay Manufacturing, Hurley Medical Center, St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Monroe College, Cabeau Travel Pillows, ParagonRx and Eli Global. Their success in guiding businesses to excel prompted Andrea to write her Axiom Award-winning book, “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights.” The book highlights seven clients who came to them when they were stuck or stalled.
“We helped them see opportunities that were all around them,” Andrea says of the book, a toolbox of practices and ideas for businesses. She shares its message in more than 50 speaking engagements a year, from Prague to New Delhi and in nearly every state in the Union.
The Simons also practice what they preach. Says Andrew: “With the amount of change that is taking place, for us it is important to try to stay on the edge of what will be going on in the future.”