What is business anthropology and how useful is it?

business anthropology and the evolution of human behaviourAnthropology is the study of humans and human behaviour and societies in the past and present and business anthropology applies the same methodology to the business world.

It can therefore focus on a wide range of business behaviours, including management, operations, marketing, consumer behaviour, organizational culture, human resources management and international business.

If you read my blogs regularly you will know I am a firm advocate of knowing, understanding and monitoring every part of your business, from operations and processes to cash flow and profitability and of regularly reviewing your management accounts.

These are all very practical and crucial aspects of a business’ performance, but I would argue that no business can hope to sustain its success and profitability without also understanding the human beings with whom it engages.

So how and where is business anthropology most useful?

Understanding the interactions and likely behaviour of the human beings with whom your business is involved is important to many aspects of a business if you want to increase profitability and grow.

It can be especially important if you have identified a problem that needs to be addressed.

Employee engagement is crucial to sustaining and improving productivity, whether it is in developing new and more efficient processes or simply increasing sales. Issuing instructions is not enough.  Productivity initiatives are unlikely to yield results unless people are well-motivated and feel valued and it is therefore important to understand what matters to them and what is likely to motivate them. This is where business anthropology can be a useful tool.

Another aspect of business anthropology that can add to your insights is how the workforce communicates with each other and with external stakeholders such as customers; essentially this is its corporate culture.

Crucially, your behaviour as a leader and that of your managers defines the workplace environment and over time embeds the business culture. But if you want everyone to buy in to the business’ vision and culture you need to understand how to “press the right buttons” and again business anthropology can bring insights into this.

Knowing the causes of and how to manage performance and stress alongside profiling staff and customers to understand how they are likely to react can be helped by using business anthropology’s insights to improve the success of growth and productivity plans.

And finally, in an increasingly global culture where it is likely that once the UK has left the EU businesses will have to redouble their efforts to build trading relationships with many other countries the insights found in business anthropology can help to understand and apply the conventions found in other cultures and countries.

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