Is Your Business Stuck in the Center?

Simon, AndreaDr. Relly Nadler:

This week our guest is Dr. Andrea Simon. We are going to talk about the concept and focus of hers, “Is Your Business Stuck in the Center Lane?” She is a corporate anthropologist, a management consultant who specializes in working with companies that need to change. In this business environment she is rather busy—everybody is in some kind of change or another.

Dr. Simon has been a Professor of Anthropology and American studies and she’s in the process of writing a book about this concept of how companies and organizations get stuck in the center lane. For the past decade she has been a consultant working with companies that know they need to change but don’t know how to adapt.

Dr. Simon has created a proprietary process that she called the ChangeMap™. We’ll ask her some questions about that and try to unpack what the ChangeMap™ is. It’s based on her understanding of culture and what we are learning from the neurosciences about how we balance order and chaos in our brain. You know we love talking about the neuroscience topics here. Also, she will talk about the role of corporate culture and that it is really to keep us stable and in place so when times change we often need a crises or preferably a coach or consultant to help us see, feel, and maybe think differently and actually act in new ways or we won’t change at all.

Dr. Simon founded Simon Associate Management Consultants a decade ago. It brings the unique perspective of anthropology to business, targeting businesses that need to see, feel and think differently about their company, their customers and those who could be their customers. She specializes in helping companies change. Her experience and expertise was developed in part from academia and in part from being a senior executive in companies that needed change.

In addition, Dr. Simon has produced to Distant Learning TV Series on change for CBS Sunrise Semesters. As a business executive Dr. Simon was an executive vice president for 1st National Bank of Highland, a division of M&T Bank. She was the Sr. Vice President for Consumer Business at Poughkeepsie Savings Bank and a Senior Executive of Management, Marketing and Branding at other financial services companies including City Bank and National West.

Aside from her academic focus she’s really got on the line experience. Since we know from neuroscience research that change is literally pain, and we’ll get her to talk about that. Changing an organization is always hard work regardless of the industry or the skills of the management team.

Dr. Simon has a proprietary ChangeMap™ Process to enable organizations to engage all of their members in an approach to change that is grounded in understanding of corporate cultures and how to help individual see, feel and think differently about their jobs. This approach that she is going to talk about, integrates our understanding of our the culture of an organization both enhances and limits its ability to adapt to changing conditions in the market, much less how to create a new market and demand in innovate ways for services and products. Dr. Simon, welcome to the call.

Dr. Andrea Simon: Please to be here, thank you so much, Relly.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Andrea, we like to start our calls by asking our guests something that helps our audience relate to you and how you have been influenced by people and thinkers in your life. You’ve had such a broad career from academia to business, we’d love to know some more about you. Who have been the most influential people in your life during, even in your childhood, but throughout your career and how have they shaped your thinking about your work?

Dr. Andrea Simon: That’s always an important question, Cathy, because ideas come from so many sources and we grow so much in part by experiential and by the relationships we have. As I have thought about that, it’s interesting as an anthropologist I was deeply affected by the work of Claude Levi-Strauss who died at 100. Rereading so much of his perspective, triggered in my mind why it was so exciting to think about the raw and the cooked and how he began to really probe into the way in which our culture and our minds were working.

Then, Mary Douglas’s work which the listeners may or may not be aware of, but you can still pick the books up, on purity and danger, culture and risk, this goes back a while but she was truly writing about how our perceptions, even if you think of sustainability and the environment today, aren’t simply facts but interpreted through our mindmaps in such a way as to influence whether we think it’s there or it’s not there.

So they were early thinkers that I found very profound.

But the other part is that I thought about both of you. When I was Sr. Vice President at Poughkeepsie Savings Bank it was the beginning of the deregulation of the financial services industry. What was so profound was that I would say something and have 250 different ways of doing it. It was humbling because you realize in studying change, it was interesting, but managing it was challenging. As I watched my staff really try to do the right things, they all really wanted to do things, they didn’t know what those right things were.

During that period I had a wonderful thinker and coach who I could at least turn to and say, “what am I doing and how do I do this?” Out of it came some ideas because the last thing a senior executive wants to feel is consciously incompetent. But we know that when we are learning, that’s exactly how we feel and sometimes we need a coach to help us move along.

I began developing my ChangeMap™ process as I was having to “Change Map” a company, We introduced their first ATM, their first credit cards; so you can image it was really chaotic. Those are some of the things that have influenced my development.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Thanks Andrea. That gives us an idea that these are real on the line experiences that you have had in dealing with change. Next thing we want to talk a little bit about is what is an anthropologist and what is a corporate anthropologist, and how do you bring that. I know most organizations know about consultants, they know about leadership, but anthropology or corporate anthropology just may be a little different.

Dr. Andrea Simon: You are absolutely right. Although GE and Intel decided to spend $250 M to bring Intel’s on-the-ground anthropologist to work with GE to better understand the Home Health industry. So it’s becoming far more common.

Anthropologists are social scientists who study human behavior through systematic observation. Corporate anthropologists really are focused on consumers, business and the workplace culture itself so that we can learn what is working, what isn’t, how to optimize performance. Often they challenge very fundamental assumptions which is really part of our job. After we being to, and I use these words very intentionally, how do we see, feel and think what people are actually doing because it’s very, very difficult, even though people would tell you otherwise, for them to know what they are actually doing. They go about their business on a daily basis and want to make a nice living but at the end of the day people aren’t that reflective.

Apart from Intel and GE, some of the earliest corporate users of anthropological research were Xerox and Motorola, Nokia, Emerson, Herman Miller. Herman Miller had some wonderful stuff that has been done with young people, absolutely reinventing the workspace. Which you can imagine, you’d have to have them actually do it and create the video so that you could see it.

Microsoft has whole teams that go out and work with their clients in various ways as well. Marriott just refinished all of their hotel lobbies to make them more functional. They actually sent me a little thing celebrating it. But two years ago they sent anthropologists out to sit in the lobbies and figure out what people needed them for and how dysfunctional they had become. They couldn’t just ask, they really had to watch.

Healthcare systems are doing this more and more, putting anthropologists in to actually watch how to make/place patient safe and patient satisfying and doctor friendly. Things that, while you could listen, you might really need to see in order to believe it yourself.

All we do really is hang out.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It’s so funny listening to you Andrea, because as a classically trained physical anthropologist I get it and it’s so clear and it’s so great to hear that we are finally being embraced by the corporate world. The way that you have just described it, I think, really helps our listeners understand just how important that is.

Dr. Relly Nadler: How can anthropology also apply to entrepreneurs and business owners?

Dr. Andrea Simon: Well, sometimes we think this is just for large companies. I’ve taught entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. At the end of the day from the smallest start up to corporate titans, they really need to understand how your products or services are actually being used, not imagining it, and particularly about the emotional experience. Where are the smiles and where are the frowns and how people feeling about you? You can guess what it is and you can do your surveys or your focus groups, but each time we do them and you can see the research that results from them; people are trying to please us and tell us honestly what often they don’t really know.

Most of all what we try to do is help you as an entrepreneur/business owner, really understand what a customer is doing and how you can do it for them in a different fashion or better, but you can’t ask them and they can’t imagine. My favorite quote is Henry Ford, which is, “if I had asked people how to make transportation better, they would tell me to make the horses go faster, and I’m a horse person and that’s not going to happen.”

So by going out and actually helping entrepreneurs and business owners see, feel, and think, we can get them to open up the marketplace and begin to create demand among both customer and non-customers in ways that they couldn’t imagine by themselves.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: When you look at entrepreneurs do you think that there is a big difference in helping individuals who are start-ups who have kind of what we call a green field to start with verses an organization that has a culture which is so, I guess, historically relevant to its work and its people that it is afraid to give something up?

Dr. Andrea Simon: You know, we talk about corporate cultures and perhaps I will digress for a moment and answer your question with a little bit of insight.

We know, for example, that there are really four dominant cultures. Sometime people will make subsets of all of them, but they come back to four major ones; the entrepreneur and the very innovative one, very bureaucratic or hierarchal one, very market driven or customer focus one, and one that is really all about the client / family / or employees.

I share that with you because you point is extremely important. Entrepreneurs by and large need some hierarchy or structure to turn those good ideas into a viable business. At times there are tensions between those that want to give it structure and order and those who want to be visionaries, innovative and ahead.

So the creativity folks often are at odds with the control folks. The other two types of cultures, one is very customer oriented—very driven by the marketplace—is often at odds with employee focus, organizations that are really quite concerned about training their employees and keeping a sense of fraternity or clan operating and the customer is there but sort of a sidebar.

In today’s world, what we know really well, is that whether you are resizing or downsizing, or reengineering; unless you focus on your culture you are not going to get anywhere, and unless you begin to add some innovation into a bureaucracy, change is hard. If you are just going to be worried about your employees you are not going to see how your customers are changing. The most successful companies are right at those intersections where there is vision, innovation, but also some order to it. The customer is a major focus but there is also concern with developing your employees and your team.

As I’m drawing my little four boxes here, to your point, entrepreneurs tend to be off on one direction unless they have a type A. I have a couple of wonderful case studies for the book that I’m working on of entrepreneurs and their Type A’s who give them structure often feel like without the ideas, there is nothing, but only the ideas and there is nothing.

So it’s an interesting process. Often you develop those culture because of who you are not necessarily by design. SO you need to be careful that you haven’t gotten there by default and take a step back; perhaps you can see where you really need to go and what you need next.

You can listen to the entire interview, above, without commercials.


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