Cultural Keys LLC is a consultancy that I founded in 2009 to help firms and nonprofits understand and solve cultural-change and consumer issues. We specialize in three work streams: improving organizational culture, increasing partnership effectiveness, and understanding and reaching customers.
Cultural Keys uses an anthropological approach and a combination of techniques (e.g., observation, individual and group interviews, content analysis). Key questions guiding our approach include:
•What makes a particular organization’s culture work well and what does not?
•What changes are necessary to improve overall performance?
•How might an organization’s culture transition to some new configuration so that it can be effective and successful in the future?
We typically work with members of the client organization to gather and validate data, and to produce actionable recommendations, implementation plans, and cultural-change tools.
Cultural Keys has helped clients in a variety of industries including medical, consumer-products, insurance, long-term-care, and food manufacturing. We design projects around the issues that clients want to tackle. Here are a few examples:
Improving patient hospital experiences: A large southern U.S. hospital wanted to become more “patient-centric.” I led a team of seven in conducting interviews and observations with hospital personnel and found that developing rapport with patients was not consistently a part of patient care. Moreover, the hospital’s functional “silos” were barriers to collaboration and innovation. Our team worked with hospital leaders to document and learn from two successful hospital innovations. We developed and tested recommendations both from these initiatives, and from other lower-performing patient-care activities. Finally, we produced 16 tools to help leaders problem solve effectively across silos, prioritize the patient experience, and reduce patient wait time.
Understanding and communicating an organization’s value: The Board of Trustees of an assisted living and nursing care community wanted to be able to articulate its culture to prospective residents and their families. Cultural Keys worked with anthropologist Sherri Briller (Purdue) to conduct interviews with residents, family members, staff, and volunteers. The project resulted in rave reviews of the “Welcome Home” care philosophy, now a core part of marketing efforts.
Other Cultural Keys’ projects also pertain to organizational-culture change. I worked with Pacific Ethnography headed by Ken Erickson (U of South Carolina) to interview customers, sales clerks, and employees of an intimate apparel firm. Our recommendations focused on how to meet customer needs and increase sales by changing the mindset and structure of the firm. Currently, I am working with a global food manufacturer to ease the transition for employees who were part of a recent acquisition.
I am fortunate to have some time to write up selected aspects of these consulting projects. Some recent articles have appeared in the Journal of Business Anthropology as well as the International Journal of Business Anthropology. Other examples appear in Transforming Culture: Creating and Sustaining Effective Organizations with Bob Trotter and Tracy Meerwarth (Palgrave, 2014), and The Cultural Dimension of Global Business with Gary Ferraro (7th ed., Pearson, 2013).
Elizabeth K. Briody, Ph.D. is Founder and Principal of Cultural Keys LLC, a firm that helps companies and nonprofits understand and address organizational and cultural-change issues. Briody has helped clients in many industries, including those at General Motors where she worked for 24 years. She is currently a member of the AAA Executive Board and just completed her service as Chair of the AAA Working Group on Mentoring.
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