Cultural insight as a building block for better employee experience and strategy implementation

Can you imagine a company that does not strive to understand the hopes and needs of its customers? One that does not research the obstacles and opportunities for meeting those needs? One that does not have analysis or strategy on how to build the absolute best customer experiences? Probably not.

And could you imagine an organization that sets strategic objectives and communicates them to people, but has not analyzed the current organizational culture? Or one that has not made an effort to understand the obstacles or opportunities for implementing the strategy in everyday life and in people’s minds? Or really listened to the needs or aspirations their own people have for success at work? You probably can.

For many companies, competition for talented people is a real barrier to growth, and we constantly hear concerns regarding traction and retention. On the other hand, more and more people want a job that matters, is meaningful and a workplace where people are cared for. At Miltton, we have shared the journey to explore the root of employee experience with a few brave companies.

We writers are constantly (and happily!) working on both customer and employee experience. In the context of customer experience, we explore what is meaningful to people; what everyday practices might be sources of value and business opportunities, or how the brand might resonate stronger. We facilitate and coach organizational leaders and members to see the world through the eyes of their customers and stakeholders. We help organizations to achieve their customer promise and customer experience goals.

Almost exclusively, but fortunately not always, research focuses on gaining customer insight and bypasses employee or cultural insight.

Often insight on cultural aspects is not deep enough – human sciences are underutilized in organizational development

Against this backdrop, we argue that there is a blind spot in the development of organizations that qualitative human research and anthropological analysis could fill. While customer insight is well established, cultural insight of the organization is often narrow. Personnel surveys and pulses measure some aspects of the status of an organization. However, they only provide answers to predetermined questions. What if those questions are not relevant? What if energy is consumed by issues that cannot be quantitatively measured? What is truly relevant in everyday life at work?

The missing piece is cultural insight on organizations

With this in mind, it is hard to see how you can effectively develop employee experience without an understanding of its current state and what factors influence it. The same applies to organizational culture. What is it like right now? What are we building on? Without insight, the risk of over-optimism is obvious and there is no guarantee of effectiveness if the reality and goals do not match. Yet, in situations where there is a need for talents or where change shakes the commitment of existing ones, culture is often hoped to give competitive advantage and to reinforce commitment and relatedness.

Cultural and human insight of organizations reveals obstacles and enablers

What is employee insight or cultural understanding of the organization that we talk about? It is a qualitative, ethnographic analysis that explores an organization openly, without preconceptions. Ethnography is used to understand what the main obstacles or enablers in the culture are.

The aim is to articulate and make visible the everyday life and thinking patterns of the people of the organization. What are the values that impact people’s behavior and perceptions beneath the surface? What are they proud of, and why? What do they value, and why? How do these influence the way of communicating and the way work is perceived and done? What scares, what distresses? What kind of things is it time to let go of? And on the other hand, what kind of workplace do we dream of?

The first brave ones already made the journey

We have already made a deep dive cultural journey with a few brave companies. Together, we have learned about the roots behind actions. It has required curiosity, open-mindedness, and willingness to see the world from different angles. At the same time, it has given a much broader view of the current state of operations and the possibilities for the future.

Understanding the roots creates a solid ground to build upon: this is true now and these are the issues that should be tackled to guarantee success. Furthermore, it gives momentum: these are the things that drive our strategy, that we can build on. And at the same time, it has increased the much-needed sense of belonging: this is something we can be proud of together!

How do you understand employee experience or cultural insight? If you are interested in sparring around the topic or are keen on starting a deep-diving journey, we are always ready to partner up with you!

Anne Pallaste is a coach, facilitator and consultant who boldly combines ethnographic research for employee experience development, cultural analysis for brand management and, above all, an inclusive and human approach to organizational, leadership and business renewal. Anne fosters curiosity and respectful encounters to help people and organizations thrive.

Anna Martela leads Miltton’s research and insight business. Anna’s background is in business anthropology and prior to Miltton she co-founded Kenno Anthropological Consulting, a pioneer in the field. Anna is passionate about applying human sciences and ethnography to solve challenging problems and to develop strategy and employee experience.