When was the last time you looked at your business with fresh eyes? Maybe it is ready for some significant changes? How would you know? How would you make them happen? As we often tell our clients "If you want to change, have a crisis or create one." If not, very little gets done. But the pressures to change are accelerating. People really hate to change. What to do?
Anthropologists seem convinced that no one wants to hire them. With very low unemployment and almost 6 million jobs going unfilled in the U.S. today, shouldn’t highly-skilled, well-trained and capable anthropologists be able to find work of some kind that’s related to their education and interests?
Did you know that in Iceland, it's the law that men and women must earn the same pay? That's right. Iceland just announced (the first country in the world to do so) that public and private companies must pay men and women in the same positions equally or pay a fine. Wow, what if that could happen here in the U.S.!
As a corporate anthropologist and culture change expert, I thought this warranted a closer look. I started digging into the subject and what I've found is that not only is pay parity timely and necessary and the right thing to do, it's also good for business.
I was asked recently by American Express OPEN Forum for my input in this area, along with several other CEOs and business founders. (Read the article here) Interestingly, we all expressed the same belief: that equal pay is important to the health of a business. Consider these eight points, discussed in the AmEx article:
When I started writing this blog, I was interested in how schools use anthropology and its observational research methods. I wasn't curious about how schools were teaching anthropology, but how they applied its theory, methods and tools to help address the significant issues of climate and cultural changes. As I scanned the research trying to find how anthropologists help schools change, grow and improve, I came to the realization that anthropologists are not being used to help schools. But quite frankly, they should be!
So how can anthropologists help our schools?
As many of you know, I love talking about anthropology—specifically, how corporate leaders can apply its tools and methodology to bring about cultural change, greater success and bigger profits. But, change is hard. In many cases, change is literally pain. The brain actually fights it, which is why real, lasting change is so difficult to come by. As a culture change expert, I see this all the time with clients. But the good news is that yes, change can happen! And with a little guidance, you can actually make it stick. Yes, indeed you can drive change.
In my recent interview with Thomas Fox, these concepts are exactly what we talked about—anthropology and culture change and how each influences the other. As I explained to him, in a corporate setting, leaders espouse values, beliefs and expectations so people know what to do and how to get it done. Everything is fine until something begins to change and then that culture must change, too.
But knowing how to "do" culture change can be tricky. To help businesses achieve success, I offered the following six steps (abbreviated here):
6 steps for achieving successful culture change
Now that “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights,” my award-winning book on how corporate anthropology can help businesses grow, is being read by CEOS, business leaders, entrepreneurs and even anthropology students, I'm frequently being asked, "What is this thing called 'anthropology' or 'business anthropology' and why should I know about it, much less use it to help grow my business?"
In addition, I cannot tell you how many parents have contacted me about their son or daughter who is in love with business anthropology in college or with just anthropology itself. What kind of jobs are out there for an anthropology major?, they want to know. As an anthropologist myself, what I don't want to tell them is that only a few years ago, Forbes and Kiplinger ranked anthropology as the worst major for finding a job after college.
Maybe it is time to change that!
There is now a very big role for anthropology and anthropologists in business.
Given the business trends I am seeing as I travel around the country working with clients or leading workshops, I am convinced that now is the time to make anthropology less academic and more easily understood and applicable, particularly in the business world. Indeed, the tools and methods of anthropology are what can help your business or organization sustain growth during these rapidly changing times.
So what is this thing called "Corporate Anthropology?"
In a recent blog ("4 Great Ways to Become a More Innovative Company"), I wrote about CEOs and other executives who typically have spent much of their leadership time at the head of a successful ship. But when it comes time to adapt to change, they have a hard time keeping their companies afloat when the market winds shift and they need to rethink strategies to change course. Do they just need to add some innovation? Or do they have to change their culture?
Maybe a little of both. How does that kind of change actually happen?
Let me tell you a story.
At my consulting firm Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC), we've been working with a Fortune 500 company whom I'll call “Client X.” The challenge before us is to figure out how to reconcile, on the one hand, a business that has grown to dominate its market by doing things well in one particular way, with on the other hand, changing customers who are demanding new things from their network of retail outlets.
Additionally, and almost right on cue, new managers from Generation Y are rising in this company's ranks and proposing new, innovative ways of doing things. A big collision is coming.
Here at SAMC, we are watching a situation in which a business leader is trying to transform an organization that has really been allowed to wallow for a long time. Staff has been coming to work and doing a job but not much has been happening to either inspire or frighten them.
But now, with new leadership and a fast-changing market, they are threatened. While trying to mobilize and motivate his employees, the new CEO is finding that they are throwing up the classic four hurdles of those who know intellectually that they have to change but really don’t know how—or even if they want to.
The four hurdles (and you may have seem them yourself) are:
- The cognitive one where they claim they really don’t know what the leader is talking about.
- The motivational excuse where they just really don’t want to put any effort into changing.
- The resource resistance where they blame the slow pace of change on not having the resources.
- The politico hurdle where they are waiting to see what others are going to do before they risk their own necks embracing the leader’s initiatives.
The new leadership team is responding with a wonderful mix of business acumen, personal strength and at times, softer concerns. They are showing that they are vulnerable, caring and concerned but also strong and determined to help this organization adapt, or die. Watching this careful dance made us realize that the growing body of research and literature about the success of a vulnerable leader was playing out right before us.
For years, I opened my CEO workshops with this question:
“Are you an innovative leader helping your company remain competitive in a fast-changing business environment?”
As soon as I asked it, every hand would go up. However, when I asked for a success story about an innovation or a product improvement, I would only hear stuttering and stammering.
Eventually I realized that executives raise their hands because they want to be seen as innovators, but the reality was that they were long on promise and short on performance. I don’t fault these leaders—their hearts are in the right place. We all want to be innovators, but when it comes to making it happen, we often falter.
What’s the innovation problem?
We see examples of extremely innovative corporations, like Apple, Amazon, Uber and Google, but they are notable because they are not the norm. The norm is that corporations are good at a few core things, but when the market changes, they are slow to respond—and often aren’t able to respond at all. Maxwell Wessel wrote a great article in HBR literally titled "Why Big Companies Can't Innovate.”
As a corporate anthropologist, companies usually call me in when they are going through one of these crises, so I have the good fortune and tremendous challenge of working with smart executive teams right at the moment when the things that have worked so well for them in the past aren’t working so well any more.
Over decades of doing this kind of work, I have seen many reasons firsthand that stand in the way of innovations. Here are a few of the themes I see over and over:
You must be reading a lot about what everyone is getting set up to do in the next year. We thought we would share with you some of the trends we are seeing in our trenches as we are out in the field working with clients or conducting CEO workshops. Give some thought to how these might be relevant to you and your growth strategy, and as always, please share your ideas with us. We’d love to hear from you.
What are our clients’ growth and innovation goals for 2018?
Here are some of the ones we’re seeing:
1. Redesigning the business. One client is repositioning their services firm for the growing demand among their clients and prospects to be better able to solve complex business needs. This is much more than what they used to do for them. Increasingly, they are finding that their clients want a partner with expertise who helps them become more agile in fast-changing times.
It doesn’t matter if it is CPA firm or a law firm or a design firm—limited scope of services seems to be out. Broader capabilities are becoming essential. If you cannot do it yourself, you need to bring in collaborators or freelancers or partners and operate as a general contractor. In today’s market, you never want to say you cannot do something (because if you do, clients/prospects will go elsewhere).
2. Culture change has become essential. As culture change experts, we work with and provide coaching for a number of executives, both in the U.S. and globally. We are seeing a big change in their realization that culture is “everything” or at least “a lot of the things.”