Anthropology is defined as the study of human societies and cultures and their development. The definition of anthropology is intentionally broad. It's meant to encompass the wide spectrum of human life. At first glance, one might be tempted to believe that the anthropologist’s job is as simple as asking questions of a particular group of people, but the true job of the anthropologist, is to adapt to the culture of the group of people he or she is studying.
To be a consultant is to be an anthropologist, investigating the cultures and practices of a particular company, analyzing how people go about their day-to-day lives, and determining how these corporate rituals dictate the success of the Procurement department and the company as a whole. How do we do this? Through cultural adaptation.
Although in anthropology cultural adaptation might look like using the local language, eating local food, or sleeping in a local family’s extra bed (—which may pertain to your job as a consultant? I don’t know what you choose to do on your on-site trips). In most situations, however, cultural adaptation in terms of consulting might be a bit more subtle. It could mean using different terminology, technology, or methods of gathering data. Like an anthropologist, if you are not fully integrating into your client’s corporate customs, you might always be perceived as an outsider. Just as one would only share their most intimate secrets with their closest friends, it is important to recognize that without a solid relationship with your client, data will be hard to come by.
Though individual relationships are important, it is crucial not to read too much into any one interaction. An anthropologist wouldn’t try to make claims about an entire group of people by interviewing one member of that group. A consultant should exercise the same restraint. It's essential that a consultant not only come to understand the stakeholder, but the practices and customs of the company as a whole. Recognizing the significance of one’s corporate culture- much like recognizing the significance of any culture- allows the consultant and the client to develop a mutual respect for one another. This, ultimately, gives the consultant an upper hand, as they are better equipped to articulate the needs of the client. They'll earn the client's investment and more efficiently come to a final agreement.
Sometimes it is difficult for Procurement consultants to look outside of a particular project’s scope. We create routines. Calling clients/suppliers, obtaining data, plugging it into Excel, and then we rinse and repeat. We often forget, however, that for some of our clients, this process is totally foreign-- and so are we. By making that extra effort to understand the roots of a company, and showing the client that we care about them as much as we care about saving $.25 on staples, we can reassure them that we are ultimately here to serve their company’s vision. By hearing a client’s entire corporate story, we are able to create stronger client/consultant relationships, and conclusively, provide services that are unique to the culture and mission of the company as a whole.