Journeying into the business world... one undiscovered culture at a time

Welcome to [Per]Suit of Anthropology, a blog dedicated to the exploration of modern business trends and perspectives from the view of anthropologist, with a special emphasis on cultural understandings of work-life balance and disability rights in the workplace. This blog is a way for me to connect two sides of my professional self that I see in constant dialogue. Though the business world and the anthropological world may not believe it - they have more in common and more to learn from one another than readily acknowledged. Topics covered include: Western business practices and the impact of those decisions on socio-cultural institutions worldwide, invisible disabilities, Ignatian spirituality, work-life balance, and some discussion of issues of tourism and its impacts on culture, and common human capital practices in private industry and government.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Paradox of Global Development

A few days ago a friend sent me a link to a blog article on HuffPo, titled "The State of our Disunion," by Robert Reich. In the article, he goes on to briefly illustrate how the private sector is becoming increasingly global, while public sector is becoming increasingly private.

While his article illustrates some high-level observable trends that really are not that revolutionary to anyone following Big Business, he does make an interesting point when reading in between the lines: the cultural assumptions we make about various players (i.e. 'the state' 'big business,' etc.) are quickly changing. Take for instance the U.S. Government of the 1960s. It was an era when NASA was reaching to the moon, when the CIA and FBI were in full out clandestine operations, and when, unbeknownst to many of us, DoD researchers were putting into motion research that would one day bring us the internet. In short - government was the place to be for an aspiring young mind.

Yet what do we hear today, vitriol and downright hate regarding state employees (from back office workers, to public teachers). What is the cause for such a shift? Well some of it belongs to the shift of history books - and the waxing and waning of various political parties in power. However, the crux of it lies at the impact of culture on our perceptions. What has changed in the past forty to fifty years are the multitude of players, the invention of the internet, the 24/7 news media, and technology changes that make it easier for us to learn information ourselves, and do it in a quick manner. Unfortunately, much of the larger government apparatus seems stuck in time - and has not readily adapted to the changing times, hence the implications that government does nothing.

And herein comes Mr. Reich's opinion that the public sector is becoming increasingly private. Why is that, many ask? Well as a gov't contractor it is quite simple - we can do things faster, more efficiently, and can get things done. We get buy in from major stakeholders and implement practices that are known in business circles to improve many things, from efficiency, to employee morale and loyalty. Yet - we are never seen. Many companies, mine included, take special note to ensure that all the work we do looks as if it comes from the government office - it is a tenant of 'good service: ya make your boss look good!' But it leaves one feeling sometimes like the Wizard of Oz, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain..."

I am not sure if the current system in place is going to remain there - or if, as is my hope, government catches up and learns from the things contractors are doing and we can get the agencies to a point where they can, in turn, fire us. But regardless this is a culture currently in place and relatively accepted by many within the two groups.

Now as per global corporations - well that deserves another blog post altogether. For now I will just leave you with this:

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's, Resolutions, and Development Goals

Ah! It is the New Year! 2012, Year of the Dragon - the end of the World!?! (According to the Mayan calendar). Inevitably talk of the New Year has us discussing New Year's resolutions: losing weight, smoking less, drinking less, making more time for family and so on.

I found it somewhat interesting that during this time period I also happened to go through my mid-year review process at work. One of the key items examined are our yearly 'development goals,' and how our performance has or has not enabled us (or me, rather) to achieve those goals. Part of the mid-year discussion involves refining those goals, rewriting those goals, and/or deleting some altogether.

Amidst all this pressure to define myself in terms of 'goal accomplishment,' I found myself musing as to when did our American/Corporate culture get to this point? At what point did we move away from our only goal being survival, to all these nuanced items that reflect more what our culture expects of us, rather than what we expect of ourselves. I could not help but think of my time in other parts of the world: Tibet, Spain, Italy, England, and wondered are those cultures as obsessed with perfection and constant improvement? Ok, so granted I know that my company is global in nature - so therefore my colleagues in Europe and Asia are expected to uphold similar standards of performance. But what about other home-country companies? For example, what are the 'performance' expectations of a state-owned Chinese company? Do they reflect at all the expectations of Chinese culture writ large?

These distinctions are important because as companies expand beyond their natural borders, something as simple as performance, or performance expectations will change from culture to culture. For American companies, continual self-improvement is seen as a very good trait to have, whereas nations in other parts of the world value more the emphasis on team-work, and improving the lot of the company, organization, or community. What are some ways in which performance expecations take into consideration cultural implications on performance. Is the idea of "performance reviews" too Western an idea for other businesses?

Any other insights anyone has on this topic would be great to see.