Adopt 3 Terrific Tools From Anthropology To Conquer Change

Forget what they say about love. It’s change that really hurts.

Corporate leaders will tell you it’s the biggest challenge they’re facing today. Constant change makes it difficult to remain relevant and to create value for customers.

“As humans, we hate to change,” says corporate anthropologist Andi Simon, author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights. Whether it’s introducing a state-of-the-art computer program or transitioning a company to a wholly new and innovative way of working, she says, “Your brain literally creates chemical pain that says, ‘Please stop all that new work.’”

And so, instead of enjoying the challenges that come with trying something new, we resist.

“To be sure, our brains are elastic and can, in fact, adapt,” Simon says. “But it’s not a smooth, easy or comfortable process.”

It’s tough enough for the people at the top to think about reworking processes and policies; imagine the difficulties when you’re talking about altering the culture of an entire workplace.

Companies have cultures, whether they know it or not, Simon says. “It’s an amalgam of core values, beliefs and behaviors that pertain to the business and the way it is conducted. Employees live out that culture every day.”

When the corporate culture has to evolve, getting employees on board can be a challenge. But if company leaders can provide purpose to the changes – by showing how they’ll improve business and create stability after the transition – they have a better shot at a quicker buy-in.

To do that, though, they have to get out of the office and witness first-hand how customers use the product or service and interact with employees. Simon suggests adopting an “anthropologist’s toolkit” to:

  • Conduct observational research. Consider shadowing clients and employees as they use a product or service. Find out what their challenges are, and what trends they see that have them concerned or excited.
  • Find customers’ pain points. What happens when someone contacts the company’s customer service center? What works and what doesn’t? Are emails and phone calls answered? What happens when people visit the website? If responses are delayed or unsatisfactory, find out why.
  • Use culture probes and storytelling. What are the stories customers and employees could tell if they had a company leader’s ear? Put away any defensiveness and just listen.

Simon also advises companies to expand the research role past the executive level. Allow team leaders and others to be a part of the company’s new story, she says, and encourage them to visualize how they can play new roles in an emerging business environment.

“They’ll be the energy behind your innovation,” Simon says.

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