Corporate anthropology – Anthropology is the study of humanity. Another way to define the discipline is as the study of human groups. When you consider anthropology in this way, its application to businesses and organisations becomes clear. Anthropology has offered business and organisations solutions for many decades. Far from being a profession of explorers of foreign cultures, anthropology is concerned with how humans structure their relations to each other.
Originally, anthropologists provided cross-cultural assistance to businesses, such as helping to design products that would be understood in more than one culture, most famously contributing to car dashboard design. In other cases, anthropologists have helped to extend business presence into new international markets. But increasingly anthropology is proving useful in improving the operation of businesses and organisations in their traditional markets.
Businesses and organisations have their own internal cultures (often known as “corporate culture”), and anthropological tools are useful in adjusting and changing the outlook that the staff take towards their roles, their markets, and their teams. If people are an organisation's greatest assets, then improving or realigning the culture they operate under gives greater value.
Anthropology improves “process interfaces” which are the zones where processes interact with other processes, with other teams, with machines and computers, other companies, or branches in other places. Process interfaces are often where “the ball is dropped” when a process trail fails and it is usually because something about the corporate culture led to the wrong assumption or behaviour about what was happening at the interface. Processes rarely fail at interfaces because of process design flaws, but usually because the human didn't behave in a way that supports the process. Why humans should make decisions to act in a way that breaks a process is a matter of the their culture – their mindset and how they're thinking about what to do.
Corporate anthropology is an increasingly popular service and high profile corporate anthropologists have recently published several well received books on the subject, including Grant McCracken's “Chief Culture Officer” and Lucy Suchman's “Human-Machine Reconfigurations”.
Time & Motion uses qualified anthropologists when consulting on corporate anthropology.