Recently I was interviewed by INSIDE Public Accounting on the business applications of corporate anthropology. I will be speaking at IPA's 2018 PRIME Symposium conference, so this interview served as a kind of sneak peek into what I will focus on in the culture change workshop I'll be conducting. (You can read the entire interview here.)
My focus was on the importance of observational research to better understand why people behave the way they do, especially when interacting with a product or service. By observing behaviors, anthropologists are trained to see things people do not always know they are doing. These observations then lead to all types of insights, changes to processes, modifications to services, and even innovations.
Equally important was how these "new" ideas and insights help organizations rethink what they are doing. Often, they can better hone in on their targets because now they have a deeper understanding of their own "ways of doing things" and how well they align (or don't align) with their customers' needs.
Since we know that change is painful, observing with fresh eyes how something is being done can often enable people to better see ways to change those habits. Pretty amazing insights emerge from a little anthropology!
In these fast-changing times, businesses need folks who can pause and step back to observe what is really happening.
The challenge for businesses is that they tend to hire people who are very similar and deliver desired results. This works great in stable environments, but today's fast pace of change means businesses need discoverers as well as deliverers — people who can observe how customers are “really” solving their problems or even how their own products or services are being used.
That's the value of observational research.
Ethnographic research and observational research offer an approach that enables you to look at and listen to what is actually happening. In a business setting, observational research offers a very different perspective than surveys and statistical data.
Whether you are watching how people use a website to better understand how they are finding the answers they need, or how they interact with a running shoe or brand of vodka, what they tell you and what they do are not always the same. What is often missing is the meaning of what they are doing. How do they feel? Why is something important, or not?
Why is that so important for professional services firms today?
The arrival of new technologies and the issues associated with staffing are posing new, profound challenges for professional services firms. Accounting firms in particular are worried about:
- The impact of cloud-based technologies for them and their clients
- The potential of blockchain systems to transform ledgers and everything associated with them
- The advent of continuous accounting
- The consolidation of businesses into larger behemoths while niche players emerge as innovative start-ups
- The changing nature of staff, and of management, and what these changes mean for the workplace culture
Want to know more about how corporate anthropology can help your business? Check out these blogs and podcasts:
- Blog: The Time is Right for Businesses to Hire Anthropologists
- Blog: 3 Ways Anthropologist's Toolkit Can Revitalize Your Company
- Blog: What is Corporate Anthropology and Why Should I Try It?
- Podcast: Ask Andi—Want Your Company To Not Just Survive But Thrive? Hire Anthropologists.
- Podcast: Jay Hasbrouck—Thinking Like an Anthropologist
Old habits are not very useful when things are changing.
The tremendous value of anthropology comes from how it helps people see things with fresh eyes. To survive in business, you have to think about literally everything in a new way. If you don’t, you’re going to become an archaeological ruin.
This might be the very best time to try hiring an anthropologist to help your business grow.
At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we specialize in helping businesses that need or want to change. Please contact us to discuss how we might help your organization successfully adapt to today’s massive changes so you too can thrive, not just survive.
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