Name: Andrea J. Simon, Ph.D.
Title: Corporate Anthropologist, President and CEO
Firm: Simon Associates Management Consultants
- A corporate anthropologist whose consulting firm, Simon Associates Management Consultants, specializes in working with organizations that need or want to change.
- Award-winning author of the book “On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights.” Creator and host of the podcast “On the Brink with Andi Simon.”
- Prolific speaker, with over 390 workshops and keynote speeches on the topics of Blue Ocean Strategy, culture change and change management.
- Developer of proprietary ChangeMap™ process to enable businesses to achieve desired transformations.
Unlike popular images of anthropologists, they are more often found in corporate offices than in remote villages. Why?
Businesses can be viewed as small-scale societies. They create their own, unique ways of doing things. Their beliefs, values and behaviors become rather sacred to them, protected even when they cease to be useful in a changing business environment. Anthropology trains people how and why observational research is essential to better understand why some things are happening in particular ways. By observing behaviors, you see things people do not really know they are doing to each other or in their business processes. That’s why Intel has over 100 anthropologists studying how people in different cultures work with, or avoid, technologies, for example.
You’ve said companies need both ‘discoverers’ and ‘deliverers.’ What do you mean?
People have different ways of “seeing” things. Neuroscience tells us that people organize realities that create and then conform to their “stories” of how things should work. The challenge for businesses is that they tend to bring together people who are very similar, know how to run a task and deliver desired results. This works great in stable environments, but the fast pace of change means businesses need not only deliverers but discoverers – people who can observe how customers are “really” solving their problems. Discoverers are able to set aside long-standing “truths” and better anticipate the future unmet needs of clients and the potential value of new ways of getting things done.
What’s so great about systematic observation?
Ethnographic research or observational research offers a process to look or listen to what is actually happening. Observational research offers a very different perspective than surveys and statistical data. Whether you are watching people using a website to better understand how they are finding the answers they need, or how they interact with a client, what they tell you and what they do are not the same. For example, during the early period of e-commerce, we installed cameras to see how people bought products online. They would tell you what they think you want to hear and typically establish themselves as the “heroes” in their stories. What they did was very different.
What’s the biggest stumbling block to innovation in professional services firms?
Professional services firms face four big hurdles when trying to bring innovations into their organizations. They come from people’s resistance to change. As the well-known quote goes, “People are not against change; they just don’t want to be changed.” The four hurdles are:
- Cognitive hurdle – when people say they don’t understand what you want them to do.
- Motivational hurdle – when people are simply not willing or interested in changing.
- Resources hurdle – when people say they have no time, no budget, no resources, no interest in change.
- Political hurdle – when people are more afraid of who they will irritate than they are willing to embrace the changes and stand apart from others.
Do you believe that when people have been working in a business for a long time they’re operating out of habit and stop seeing things that don’t fit their expectations?
People survive with other groups of people in cultures with shared habits, values, expectations, beliefs and behaviors. Our brains use 25% of the body’s energy. It is much more efficient when it allows the habits to control our thinking and behaviors. At times, those habits are extremely valuable, but those same habits are not very useful when things are changing. Our biases are so strong that we tend to delete or discount things that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable or just irritating to our normal way of doing our jobs. Customers that leave must be the problem. Products that are not selling must reflect bad clients. If we don’t better understand those clients and their unmet needs we may not have clients in the near future.
The tremendous value of anthropology comes from how it helps people see things with fresh eyes. Three actions from our tool kit that are easy for business leaders to try:
- Sit in on the inbound customer service phone and listen to what people are asking for. You will learn a great deal about those customers’ needs and how aligned you are or are not with them.
- Spend a couple of hours or a “day in the life” of a client and observe ways you might be able to help them differently.
- Schedule a lunch with a prospective client. Don’t sell them anything. Ask them to talk about their challenges and pain points. You will hear lots of potential ways you could rethink your own business and grow innovatively.
Andi Simon will be a speaker at INSIDE Public Accounting’s 2018 PRIME Symposium conference. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.