Artisan OD – A New Tribe for the HR world?

Posted: March 1, 2016 by Matthew Hanwell in Change, Human Resources, OD, Organization


By Ian Gee

I am sure we have all noticed the rise of mosher led microbreweries, hipster bakeries, nipster furniture makers, craft kids and DIYer upcycling shops! To me these all represent a resurgence and delight in artisan products, services and ways of working.  In most towns and cities these new types of businesses, led by urban tribes, are springing up and doing rather well.  Consumers seem willing to pay a premium to know where their products come from, how staff are treated and to feel that they are receiving something hand crafted and special. I would also argue that by supporting artisans, they are consciously or unconsciously feeling part of a movement.  There is a sense, that by buying from small local craft producers, they are having a bit of a ‘stick it to the man’ moment!

As someone who grew up in the 60’s I find this really interesting.   Throughout the last century having things from large companies was all the rage and a sign that you and your family were successful, letting go of the past and embracing modernity.  Things from large corporations had a shiny, bright and new glamour to them.  As opposed to hand-crafted items, which were dull, old fashioned and boring.  A sign of being stuck in the past and not getting with the programme!   We trusted the ‘big brands’ to deliver quality, efficiency and effectiveness at a good price.

From my experience the only interest in hand crafted goods tended to be the things that people brought back from their overseas holidays.  So the fancy sangria jug, or the Neolithic looking mortar and pestle brought home as a reminder of a lovely summer holiday.  I have a friend of Greek heritage and he told me how in the 70’s and 80’s when his Greek family visited the UK they would bring a lot of their ‘peasant, artisan goods’ to give to friends and family and then rush to Woolworths to fill their suitcases with Tupperware to take back home as gifts for friends!  The gifts they brought were kept on display as symbols of exoticism and ‘conversation starters’.  They were certainly never used!

To me the subtext is that in today’s market place artisan products and services are perceived to be more ‘truthful’, real and authentic than those offered by the big brands.  They are sold as less likely to be built on the sands of possible corruption or stir up feelings of ethical dilemmas.  They are local, shaped and crafted by the ‘horny handed sons and daughters of the soil’!  I think this evidences a strong desire to experience things on a much more human scale and to be able to look into the eye of the person who has produced what we are consuming.  When we buy from an artisan, we feel, rightly or wrongly, that we know what we are getting and through the economic exchange are forming a relationship, no matter how transitory, with our locality and in many cases with a particular community.

What on earth has the last 500+ words got to do with OD, I hear you muttering?!  Well, given consumers desire for a more artisan, transparent, local relationship with producers what would a more artisan like approach to OD look like?  Here are a few thoughts of the top of my head.

Artisan OD might include:

  • Small teams of people doing things in a very transparent way that people understand. Most likely working within their direct or immediate locality so they feel they know them
  • Practitioners who have an obvious passion for their trade and craft; making money being secondary to their vocation
  • A practice with a very evident set of skills and abilities, with no mystery or ‘behind the curtain’ type activities
  • A sense that anyone can do Artisan OD, if they are willing to put in the 10K hours to practice, practice, practice and more practice
  • The fact that the excitement and glamour is not in the power of association (how many OD practitioners have you heard bragging that they only work with C Suite executives, having lots of BIG clients, etc., ) but rather in the fact that you are using your craft to make an obvious difference at a local level and by association to the world
  • No checklists (the top 5 tips for employee engagement, the 8 things you need to do for successful culture change, the 7 things to change in order to be the change you want to be….) and not aphoristically driven (‘Change before you have to’ “Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.”…) but personalised, bespoke, connected, locality based, authentic and real.

I have lots more ideas, but before I share them, over to all of you my fellow OD, Artisan or otherwise, let me know what you think?  What do we need to do to become the new tribe in the HR world?!


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