Section 2: Enhancing Operational, Organizational, and Management Effectiveness

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the Applying Best Practices section
  1. Respect agreements with employers or clients.  Anthropologists engaged in practice usually discuss a new activity or project in detail with their supervisors or clients prior to initiation.  Once an agreement is reached (sometimes resulting in a signed contract), carry out the agreement in good faith. If something is amiss or unexpected, there may be room for some negotiation even after the work gets underway.  Focus on addressing any supervisor/client requests or issues.  At times, conflict may emerge between the client/supervisor and other stakeholders (e.g., a leader with his/her team members, a brand manager with potential users).  Sometimes agreement is not possible, and one party may prevail.  At other times, the conflict may simmer, causing significant discomfort and perhaps damage among certain stakeholders.  In both scenarios, ethical challenges may arise, forcing us to decide our next course of action (e.g., exit the project and/or organization; remain and rebuild).

  2. Honor timelines.  Once timelines are set in a realistic frame, they should be followed.  Missing them may have serious ramifications for subsequent activities and projects, not to mention the current effort.  Do not take congenial supervisor/client relationships for granted.  Just as we listen to their ideas and concerns, we are also mindful of their time and agreed-upon deadlines.  If an unforeseeable challenge arises, alert the supervisor/client and try to negotiate a mutually-agreed-upon alternative.

  3. Employ strategic foresight.  Organizational planning and decision making maximize the likelihood of success and may mitigate any unexpected effects or unintended consequences.  When appropriate, challenge assumptions and identify potential factors and forces affecting desired outcomes.  Then brainstorm “what if” scenarios in the work setting and how to address them over time.  This approach can offer decision makers a broader set of options related to relevant issues, and suggestions for adapting more readily to unexpected developments and unintended outcomes.  This practice is routine in the corporate world; we believe it should be adopted in all organizational settings.  The need for strategic foresight in addressing racial equality in health care is a case in point.  During the coronavirus pandemic, stark differences became clear; many minority communities had high rates of infection and severe outcomes and yet were slower than others to get fully vaccinated.  The pandemic revealed deep structural inequalities requiring new short- and long-term strategies.

  4. Establish and nurture basic and applied research within organizations.  Given that anthropologists hold an array of roles in organizational settings (e.g., employee, supervisor, manager, director, consultant), we can be involved directly or indirectly with research efforts and future planning.  Propose new or follow-on research as appropriate within and across organizations as relevant.  Internal communications about that research may promote inclusivity, improve employee engagement and retention, lead to additional lines of research, and possibly facilitate organizational change.  Undertake external presentations, publications, and other communications when possible.  Such practices can demonstrate transparency, improve reputation or standing within particular groups or communities, and enable organizations to gather input from outside sources.

  5. Anticipate and address administrative and management issues.  Plan ahead for such long-term considerations as staff capacity and turnover, emerging innovations, ongoing benchmarks and timelines, technology demands, appropriate analysis, implementation efforts (our own and others), and possible setbacks and problems.  Anticipation can help prevent or lessen the effects of unforeseen events or unintended outcomes.  It is also critical to plan for an appropriate chain of command (i.e., for projects, activities); key roles (e.g., program management, client liaison, reviewers); processes for recruiting and selecting participants, collaborators, or other stakeholders; adequate resources; timeframes; feedback loops; and other processes and actions that might affect a project or activity.

  6. Be mindful of organizational privacy.  Recognize and respect privacy considerations in the organization.  As professional observers, we know or quickly learn how the internal structures and rules work, as well as the internal differentiation (e.g., across departments, functions, business units) and power dynamics.  Exercise care when sharing information, data, or knowledge across organizational boundaries because of internal privacy and security concerns.  Communicate in a way that highlights your work in relation to the interests of the group(s) engaged, while relying on the fluidity of the ethnographic approach to understand subsequent reactions.

  7. Be aware of potential legal actions.  We should bring to our work at least a cursory understanding of applicable employment, contract, and other types of law, as well as access to legal consultation and advice as needed.  This awareness is especially important in international settings where laws and regulations may be quite different from Western or U.S. norms.  Anthropological statements on ethics say very little about the legalities of our work, but a lawsuit or court challenge can have a devastating impact on careers, research participants, clients, and other stakeholders.  In addition to fundamental legal issues, it is important to understand the regulatory and policy environment pertinent to our work.  Such knowledge can prevent serious issues and challenges from arising.