organizational culture

Should User Research Be Funny?

MEGHAN MCGRATH IBM PechaKucha Presentation The jokes people tell about their work can be a rich source of insight for user researchers. Known as “workplace humor” or “occupational humor,” these jokes refer to experiences where the user's pain or delight is instantly recognizable because it is so pervasive. This PechaKucha will discuss examples and practices your team can use to identify, synthesize, and leverage the occupational humor that resonates with specific classes of users, in order to build a more nuanced understanding of those users. Meghan McGrath is the Design Lead for IBM Z's Security group in New York. 2017 EPIC Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918, epicpeople.org/intelligences)...

When ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’: Performance, Complicity and Constraints on Communication in Corporate Attempts at Innovation

JOSH KAPLAN When ethnographic or market research is employed to help de-risk potential products and services, the focus is typically on understanding markets, cultures and contexts external to the organization that would launch them. This paper shifts the focus to the sorts of organizational practices, beliefs, and dynamics inside large corporations, which can create the conditions in which new products are brought to market despite evidence of their risk of failure....

No One Reason for It: Workforce Diversity, Cultural Complexity, and Staff Retention at BMW MINI

FIONA MOORE Royal Holloway University of London This case study is based on an ethnographic investigation conducted in 2003 at the BMW Plant Oxford automobile factory focusing on issues of staff retention. The study found that the workforce, as well as being diverse in conventional terms, was also divided in less immediately identifiable ways, and different groups within the workplace had quite different expectations from the experience or working there, and a programme to overcome these problems was developed....

Bringing Attention to Problem Solving and Meaningfulness at Work: How Ethnography Can Help Answer Difficult Business Questions

CAROLE CHARLAND Sapiens Strategies Inc. KAREN HOFMAN Sapiens Strategies Inc. A local division of a multinational manufacturer was experiencing declining enagagement and perceptions of leadership (measured in employee satisfaction surveys). In anticipation of coming waves of organizational change, they asked the research team to explore how “nostalgia” may be contributing to these issues and how they might define the unique culture of the division. Combining ethnographic observations with other qualitative methods, across all levels and departments of the plant, the team uncovered other, more critical issues. Having built a trusting relationship with senior management of the plant, the team used extensive work sessions to help them to understand issues from employee perspectives. This new empathy was conveyed during validation session that spurred initiatives to address a variety of isssues that had been contributing to the problems that initially spurred the project....

“Delivering the Secret Sauce”: Culture and Identity in a Corporate Merger

BARRY DORNFELD Principal, The Center for Applied Research, Inc. This case study explores work around a merger designed to bring together two firms of different scale, history, and identity in the hospitality industry – a large global conglomerate purchasing a small American boutique brand – while keeping the boutique company's customer- and design-centric culture. It looks at mergers as salient situations for surfacing issues around organizational culture, as companies often come together across multiple differences and brings culture to the surface. CFAR, a management consulting firm, was brought in to understand the cultural differences and challenges the merger created, and help build bridges between the two companies to sustain the boutique's culture in the service of business performance and growth....

Organizational Culture as Lazy Sensemaking: What Ethnographers Can Do about Fundamental Attribution Error

by LAURA A. MCNAMARA, Sandia National Laboratories This essay represents the opinion of the author and not any of her employers, past or present. The Fundamental Attribution Error Lately I’ve been ruminating on the fundamental attribution error, also known as correspondence bias. Think of it as a lazy kind of sensemaking, a just-so story that lets us place more agency in individuals than is probably warranted. It’s a common category error (at least among the Western psych undergrads who volunteer for experimental lab credits) that describes our tendency to attribute undesirable outcomes to individual traits, without attending to the role of situational factors in shaping behavior and decision-making. Victim-blaming is an obvious example of attribution error: Really, what kind of idiot shops at that particular convenience store in that particular neighborhood at 2AM? (Answer: A young single mother who works two jobs, one of which lets her off after midnight, and she knows she’s about to run out of diapers. That’s who.) Fundamental...

Merging Institutional Logics and Negotiated Culture Perspectives to Help Cross-Sector Partnerships Solve the World’s Most Wicked Problems

SARAH EASTER Abilene Christian University MARY YOKO BRANNEN University of Victoria Showcasing a sixteen-month ethnographic study of a coalition to end homelessness in Western Canada, we show how the integration of two theoretical perspectives—institutional logics and negotiated culture—can be used as complementary, yet distinct lenses to better inform the practice of cross sector partnerships which tackle the world’s wicked problems. In doing so, we highlight how we were able to holistically capture the meaning systems at work in such multi-faceted partnerships resulting in a better understanding of how partnerships can work across difference to affect positive social change. In particular, we capture how multiple stakeholders make sense of a partnership’s identity in a variety of different ways based upon meaning systems with which they identify at multiple levels as well as how they enact bridging skills across meaning-related boundaries to promote more effective partner interface. Keywords: cultural dynamics, negotiated...

Cultural Change Management in Organizations from Competing Perspectives

ALLEN W. BATTEAU Wayne State University GLADIS CECILIA VILLEGAS Universidad de Medellin Since the 1980s, it has generally been accepted that corporations have cultures, and that corporate culture bears an important, if poorly understood, relationship to corporate performance. Figuring out how to measure, fine-tune, and adjust corporate culture has been a cottage industry within management consulting ever since, employing numerous psychologists, sociologists, management theorists, communication specialists, and occasionally anthropologists. Corporate cultures have been variously characterized as strong, weak, open, closed, flexible, rigid, innovative, traditional, or (more typically) some mélange of all of these. To better understand the relationship between corporate culture and corporate performance, perhaps it would be better to understand culture as a living, breathing entity, not a museum specimen to be examined under laboratory conditions – ethnographically, that is, in a natural rather than artificial environment. In...

How ‘Doing Ethnography’ Fostered Collaboration in Two Organizations

DANIELA CUARON Empathy Case Study—This case study discusses the role ethnography played in fostering collaboration across two organizations during a research project. It explores how the opportunity for collaboration emerged, why it was seized upon, and what it meant for the project. The case study looks at the project challenges and mishaps and clarifies why in spite of this it is believed to be successful. It analyses the impact on people's perceptions of the project outcome and what this meant for our client. Keywords: organizational culture, agency collaboration, design research, government...

Finance, Precarity, and the Dismantling of Organizations: New Challenges for the Anthropology of Corporations

KAREN HO Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities KEYNOTE ADDRESS Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Her research centers on understanding and analyzing the culture of finance and financial institutions, its impact on corporate America as well as on broader norms of work, employment, and insecurity. Her widely acclaimed book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street—based on three years of fieldwork among investment bankers and major financial institutions—punctures many of the assumptions about how markets work” (Times Literary Supplement). Read more about Karen, her research on Wall Street and the culture of risk, and what anthropology contributes to our understanding of finance....

Looking to Right-hand Women: Strategies for Shaping Impactful Paths in Business

NATALIA SILVA INSITUM HANNAH PICK McGraw-Hill Education Download PDF PechaKucha—This visual ethnography explores the hypothesis that some women in business subvert traditional power relationships by using existing stereotypes and all other tools at their disposal to become “right-hand women.” Drawing from examples of famous women in business and quotes from qualitative interviews with women from the U.S., Mexico and Colombia, “Looking to Right-Hand Women” tells the story of how some successful, intelligent women across several countries play a behind-the-scenes role in business, strategically impacting and influencing men in leadership positions to directly shape decision-making, and ultimately the path the business takes. Through the lens of navigating the highly nuanced challenges of operating as a woman in today's business world, this visual ethnography uncovers effective strategies for building trust and effecting change in the face of complex power dynamics. These strategies could potentially be applied by consultants...

Unleashing the Power of an Analytics Organization: Why a Large Financial Institution Used Ethnography to Transform Analytics

by CHRISTINE BIRTEL (Senior Vice President), JASON PAJTAS (Vice President) and MICHELLE GREEN (Vice President), Customer Experience Insights, Wells Fargo Large organizations have been on a quest to harness the power of big data to inform and drive all kinds of decisions—from finance and fraud prevention to product development and marketing. Organizations from the U.S. government, to retailers, to major financial institutions are appointing Chief Data Officers (CDOs) to evangelize the power of big data. The path of creating a data-savvy organization, however, has complicated turns and roadblocks. Starting with the technological foundation for analytics, there exists a dizzying array of platform and software solutions all claiming to be best-in-class. When success drives an organization beyond this foundation, evolving an existing culture and data infrastructure around things like cloud, big data, machine intelligence and block chain can be an overwhelming challenge that seems insurmountable. Beyond infrastructure challenges,...

Ethnography to the Rescue of Change Management

melanie redman
by MELANIE REDMAN and TANUSHREE BHAT, Steelcase It’s not unusual for challenges to arise when organizations and teams undergo transformation. Whether due to natural growth, global expansion, or shift in focus, confusion and misalignment may lead to poor morale and mistrust. In such cases, Human Resources is typically brought in to manage employee, leader and organizational expectations, applying tried and true approaches under the heading “Change Management.” We believe, however, that ethnography offers a better approach. We were fortunate to work with a Global Procurement Team at a company that was experiencing all of these challenges following a series of organizational changes. The company had tried other, more traditional fixes, including leadership changes and providing a new work space for the team, but the problems lingered. The new leader decided to try something different. He brought in a team of ethnographic researchers who spent a month collecting survey data and conducting face-to-face interviews with as many...

Ethnographer on Wall Street: Karen Ho / A Profile

EPIC Profiles Series by RACHEL C. FLEMING, University of Colorado at Boulder EPIC2016 Keynote Speaker Karen Ho is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and author of the widely acclaimed book Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street based on three years of fieldwork among investment bankers and major financial institutions. Join Karen at EPIC2016! What do sentiments and ideologies have to do with Wall Street? Karen Ho would argue they are key for understanding and changing Wall Street’s institutional culture that generates and justifies a focus on the short-term. From working in a firm to interviewing workers and studying corporate publications, Karen’s insights into how particular mindsets come to dominate corporations or whole industries—in this case, the culture of liquidity—can help us transition from a culture of shortsightedness to one of creating long-term value. Karen did not originally aspire to become an anthropologist, but her upbringing shaped her anthropological...