In this #ChangeChat, I talk social anthropology with Bronte Jackson.

Bronte featured earlier in the year in a Sharp Hit of Change. In the #SHOC she provided a great example of the use of symbolism in change with the “tunnel” – here’s more on why symbols are important.


Social anthropology defined – study of how people make meaning / attribute meaning to their environment.

What does a social anthropologist lens bring to organisational change work

–          Working with symbols

–          People who are impacted by the change are best placed to design and implement the change

–          Change should be iterative and collaborative


Example of how symbols are important

In the UN – how much carpet you had in your office denoted hierarchy. If you had a square of carpet it denoted you were very important and you would be listened to.

So to use in change – symbolism of senior leaders seen to be leading change and committed to the change has much greater impact than communicating the change.

Examples of people impacted by the change best to manage it?

Only people who are part of the culture can change it – external vendors cannot achieve this

There needs to be a partnership – organisations need to bring in change expertise, but they need to work with people in the organisation  to make it work.

Social anthropologists believe that you cannot have the answer until we share information, design and plan together.

Examples of iterative

Organisations are never really standing still. What we do is plan based on what we know now, we implement and we see how the organisation reacts. There is not a focus on right or wrong, simply what is working and what needs to progress.

Trust is undermined by a focus on right or wrong.

How does a social anthropologist make sense of the change management profession?

I don’t use the language or term of change management.

Favourite question: Can you tell me what this change is about without using the words transformation, system or even the software? If we are talking about these we are talking about the solution, the new world, not the transition.

We can get lost in the jargon of change management

Tension between change management and organisational development?

It’s a divide between between people who see change management as people based v process based. To me it doesn’t make any sense to differentiate between them – if there’s a change, there’s a change. They still need support – whatever gets you through that is what is managing the change. Both perspectives provide value – traditionally OD people have not focused enough on the reality of business acumen. But change managers need to work deep in the business to make it stick and understand the time that it takes for change to actually occur.

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