For those of you who may not know, I’m currently a master’s candidate in Applied Business Anthropology at the University of North Texas. My broad focus is working with organizations and helping them better understand their internal employee cultures.
The capstone of the program is a practicum where students work with a sponsoring organization to design a research project to solve a very real problem. For me, I have two potential areas of interest and am searching for organizations which might satisfy one or both project possibilities. This will be a great opportunity for any company to get help understanding and resolving a thorny problem through research-based solutions. Oh, and also at no cost to the organization.
If your organization would be interested in sponsoring me and would like more information, please contact me at chris -at- chrisbaileyworks -dot- com.
Interest #1: Organizational Change and the New Rules of Business
In the last few years, there has been a phenomenal shift in business thinking related to the influence of social software on business strategy. Professionals in the technology and business consulting fields have termed it “Enterprise 2.0.” Generally, it differs from traditional business by using newer technology tools to break down silos within organizations; build more collaborative working structures internally and externally; develop more authentic relationships between the company and customer. Yet, with these dynamic changes in business strategy, there is a tension between the old ways of operating and the new, less familiar ways of doing things.
My interest within this field is to study how established industries at a macro-level or businesses at a micro-level are adapting to the changes incurred while moving toward Enterprise 2.0. My hypothesis is that as core functions of business are being changed, businesses not only need to alter their policies and procedures, they need to recreate their people-systems and the cultures that exist within their organizational boundaries. They need a more clearly defined roadmap to deal with the disruptive paradigm shifts that Enterprise 2.0 introduces to daily business and the costs and benefits it generates.
The draw to this particular topic is strong as it aligns with conversations I’ve had with business leaders and their admitted need for help changing their internal people-systems and cultures to meet new challenges posed by technology. My own personal experience corroborates this need as most businesses can easily focus on execution, but more rarely do they have the time to understand the “why” behind that execution. It’s even more pronounced when that execution hinges on understanding how culture is linked to success. For this reason, I believe there is a place for an anthropological approach providing a holistic assessment of how the human interactions and relationships contained within Enterprise 2.0 contribute to a new mode of organization.
Two professions – public relations and human resources – and one major industry – mainstream media (e.g., television and newspapers) – are at the top of my list of potential sites to perform a practicum on this subject. Each of them is struggling to adapt to critical changes wrought by technology and the impact on their business models. Delving deeper, there are also key issues often embedded in each of their organizational cultures. These manifest as how executives communicate with their employees on rules surrounding social media relationships, how managers build new competencies that integrate old and new skills, and how employees approach their work in an environment where professional and personal personas are increasingly blurred.
Interest #2: Startup Organization Maturation
This interest is one I have been developing over the past couple of years. Recently, I worked inside a company that was in the midst of evolving from a startup to a mature enterprise. What I discovered in talking with individuals who had been with the company from the beginning is how much they missed the “good old days” and were concerned about losing some of the characteristics that made it a great place to work. There was a genuine concern the organizational culture was changing as the company grew beyond the startup set of employees.
These dialogues inspired me to think deeply about what happens when a startup organization is no longer a startup. What happens when the company starts to grow up, find success, increase its product and service offerings, hires new people with different competencies? How does an organization maintain the positive aspects of its startup culture and excise what is necessary for beneficial growth?
My personal experience came inside a maturing startup in the technology sector. In Austin, TX, there is an abundance of such companies which would provide a wide array from which to choose. Ideally, I would select a technology-based company that is somewhere in its fifth to eighth year of existence. The anthropology angle would be to conduct interviews with individuals at various levels of the organization and with various lengths of tenure. The aim would be to learn the stories and rituals of the early startup to understand what cultural attributes originated, which ones have been discarded and which ones have been retained.