When you think of anthropology, you likely think about the study of ancient cultures and peoples. Maybe you have a flashback of a class you took back in college. You probably don’t think of how anthropology relates to business or company culture.
Dr. Alex Gapud, a Cultural Anthropologist at scarlettabbott, an employee engagement company in the UK, works with anthropology on a business level every day. He says that his personal mission statement is to “make work not suck for people.” Work is such an important part of most people’s lives, and Dr. Alex believes that your job shouldn’t make you feel miserable. For better or worse, work is integral to our identities.
A huge part of Dr. Alex’s work involves visiting organizations to determine whether employees are happy and if the company culture is healthy. He takes his findings and gives executives advice on what they could be doing better. Businesses of all shapes and sizes can benefit from what he has to share.
Looking Beyond Percentages
When you curate your organizational culture, you’re curating an experience that can lead to better outcomes. Once you lean into it, you’ll realize that it is possible to be profitable and also take care of your people.
Much of what Dr. Alex does for businesses is around ethnography. It’s a qualitative research method that is essential for anthropologists. It enables them to immerse themselves in the world of whoever it is they’re trying to understand and research.
Surveys can give you a wide view of what’s going on in your company. That said, no one lives their lives thinking, “I’m 68% satisfied with my job today,” or “I feel a 78% sense of purpose at work.” While surveys can be helpful, it’s unrealistic to employ strategies that are based solely on those arbitrary percentages. You need to get to the heart of the issues and the only way to do that is to actually talk to your employees.
Dr. Alex loves to say, “Numbers have faces and statistics have stories.” Remember: there’s a lived human experience on the other side of that statistic.
Ethnography is all about being on the ground to determine what it’s really like to work in an organization. This “fly on the wall” perspective is what helps Dr. Alex help HR departments and executives alike.
Building Trust With Your People
If you want your company culture to improve, you need to first build a better rapport with your team members. If they don’t already, they need to know that they can trust you and come to you with any thoughts or concerns. Trust is everything.
You can also implement other methods for your people to share how they’re feeling if anonymity and confidentiality are a concern. You could hire an outside cultural anthropologist, like Dr. Alex, if you have the means for it.
If you don’t, make sure your HR department is well-versed in logging complaints and concerns. And as a business leader, make sure that you’re willing to take constructive criticism and make changes when necessary. If you show your team that you take their thoughts and opinions into account and then advocate for them, they will grow to trust you more.
The most important starting point is to have the intent to listen and understand.
Bringing Humanity Back to Remote and Hybrid Workplaces
As organizations shift from in-person to remote to a hybrid of both, company culture and employee engagement are apt to come into question. That’s not to say that culture will disappear, it just means that it’s changing, and you must learn to adapt and change with it.
If you’re deciding whether to bring your team back to in-person full-time or stay remote, Dr. Alex believes that there is a lot of benefit in a hybrid solution. He stresses the value of face-to-face interactions. From an anthropological perspective, there is something powerful in being in the same place and experiencing things together. After all, humans are social creatures.
On those days when your team is working remotely, resist the urge to book calls and meetings back to back. Before working from home became the norm, there were probably days that were jam-packed with meetings. The difference? You most likely had to physically change meeting rooms, there was a defined lunch break and when you passed colleagues in the hallway you were likely to stop and chat.
These small moments — and breaks throughout the workday — are essential for company culture. That’s not to say that this can’t happen in a hybrid workplace but you do need to be more intentional about it.
How You Can Use Anthropology To Improve Culture
It goes back to remembering that it is essential to listen, take the time and recognize the importance of actually hearing your team’s feedback. Implement surveys, but remember to take into account the people behind those percentages. Bring in experts like Dr. Alex if you can and, if you can’t, make sure that your HR team is up to par with what you’re trying to accomplish.
Figure out what kind of company culture you hope to build and determine what behaviors are important to you and what is important to your employees. Perhaps most importantly of all, resist the urge to try to build everything yourself.
Companies that have done well and created a brag-worthy culture are the ones that have taken the time to listen to their teams. They’re intentional and humble in admitting that there is still a lot they need to figure out. And they go to their people and ask: what does a brag-worthy culture look like to you?
When you take the time to listen to the response, you’ll be glad that you did.
Check Out the Full Episode
If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Alex and he’s leveraging anthropology to improve company culture, listen to our full interview by tuning into the podcast on Apple or Spotify.
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