Business values and anthropology

A recent article was applauding a particular company’s approach to HR. One item the company felt differentiated them was their values. Specifically their stated values versus observed values. They feel that many companies stated and observed values are not identical. That got me to wondering how possible/accurate it is to identify your company values from the inside and what that exercise might look like if you could find the right scientific skillset (anthropology?).

In regards to how possible it is internally, think of it this way: how many corporate items like values, mission statements, visions aren’t subject to public relations type constraints? Those are the kinds of things that may wind up in all kinds of publicly accessible places. When would you wind up with a list of values that was accurate but negative? I think the argument you would hear is that the stated values are aspirational and that is why there is a gap between stated and observed. Another item is in-group behavior. As a member of the company (the in-group) how likely is a person or group tasked with identifying company values going to be to objectively call out values and not soften or change them if they seem to be negative? A mechanical item is whether the people tasked with identifying values have the tools to perform the task. The exercise doesn’t normally seem to be one where identifying current values is even a normal step. Identify current values -> identify stated or aspirational values -> identify the gap -> identify plans for eliminating the gap and measuring progress does not seem to be the process. Rather, identify aspirational values -> state them -> say “look we have values” (publish them) seems a lot closer to the process. If you have never actually done a process like the first one, who will have the skills to perform ‘identify current values’?

If it did turn out to be the case that doing this internally was problematic it seemed to me that if you could find the right folks, those who have an awareness/sensitivity to maintaining distance with the subjects and who need to tease out behavioral characteristics of the observed you might come out with some interesting findings. Thus, anthropology. I’m curious to know if there are tools that anthropologists apply that could be reworked to ‘identify current values’. Also, how anthropology approaches field work; how do you keep the observing from being impacted by the act of observation? Going back to the time and motion days, just watching people can produce a result. It could be expected that knowing that someone was observing values would cause people to alter their behavior.

If this or any other discipline looked like it had tools applicable to the problem, it would be interesting to run a test project at an organization and see what came out of it.


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