by JASMINE CHIA & SAMUEL HAGEN
A senior leadership team gathers in the executive boardroom. The doors are closed; the glass is opaque. Sparkling water is served. Projected on the conference screen is not a financial statement, or an operating report, but instead, an intricate diagram resembling a map or relational lineage. The subject of the meeting is the company’s reorganization – a “reorg.” Perhaps a desperate cost-cutting measure, or perhaps a tactfully planned efficiency boost, this reorg is led by a team of outside management consultants who drew the diagram slide and now lead the meeting. A confluence of rectangular boxes – “heads” – are organized according to hierarchy, with the CEO (and her board) on top; one notch down are the leaders of each business unit – Product, Sales, Finance, Human Resources. But the way these organizational charts will be re-drawn is not a purely functional exercise – like map-making, it is deeply symbolic and imbued with power.
Figure 1 (left): First organizational chart...
Amidst the advances of AI and automation, this paper provides a framework for ethnographic methods and insights to enhance human agency at work. Through analyzing data collected from ethnographic immersions in three different consulting firms (a professional services firm, a management consultancy, and a boutique insights agency), human-agent decisions are isolated in case studies and the pathways of unlocking the potential of automation to enhance the agency of individuals rather than constraining it are highlighted. Through drawing a distinction between thinking agency and executional agency present in the work of a consultant, this paper argues that automations that preserve thinking agency while maximizing productivity and accuracy are the solutions that should be adopted. Through vetting workflows sourced from ethnographic immersions with the established criteria, a framework for consultancies – and more broadly businesses – to better...