Influencing Workplace Culture From Outside the Paint

August 2, 2016

[getty images sport]
[getty images sport]

Basketball phenom Steph Curry is known for draining three-point shots. The Golden State sharpshooter’s talent was on full display all season. There’s no better example of that precision than the 12 threes in the overtime win against the Oklahoma City Thunder in February. Curry’s influence outside the paint is changing the game to the delight, and dislike, of many.

Watching him play reminded me that the same goes for workplace culture. One doesn’t necessarily have to be in the paint or inner circle to get on the scoreboard — or to influence change.

I often encounter roadblocks in working with colleagues and upper management at ESPN — the barriers can be frustrating unless we identify alternative ways to apply influence.

When I became the senior director of multicultural content at ESPN Digital & Print Media, I discovered that my title was nearly the most robust aspect of my new position. The unit was made up of three people — without a budget or assignment privileges, but with plenty of skepticism from peers within the department and in the company. Those first weeks on the job felt like being the last to be picked for a team at gym class.

While most sports editors found my team’s methodology of creating awareness useful, they generally believed that their own teams lacked the resources to realize the stories we pitched. Many people in this situation lose their enthusiasm and drive to innovate because they’re stunted by corporate culture barriers, but this wasn’t the case for my fledgling team.

The view from the balcony

To find solutions to my unit’s challenges, I had to step away from the workplace dance floor and onto the balcony.

I was only able to gain a better perspective about the problem and potential solutions when I put distance between myself and the demands. While one can only impact action on the dance floor, assessment can only be realized from the balcony.

It became clear that the multicultural unit was good at identifying opportunities, but struggled in getting the editorial teams to realize them. There was a false expectation by many in the digital and print department that we would be producing and delivering content for them.

Intersectional opportunities

While there are plenty of examples of ESPN drawing from the wealth of experience and talent of staff, the key would be to build bridges between departments, networks and platforms, resulting in consistent collaboration on priority projects.

Success has come by identifying intersectional opportunities of common interests in the coverage of major sporting events. Teams from different departments were willing to collaborate when additional funding was provided, production quality increased, and greater visibility was created in the workplace and marketplace.

Since applying this system, the unit has influenced the creation of new television specials, audio programs and focused digital segments that increased audience share and met business goals.

Symbiotic relationships

Business mutualism is a proven method in overcoming limitations and inspiring innovation. Like in any relationship, the courtship between colleagues, departments and networks took time. My team needed to discover our intended’s likes and dislikes.

Here are three guidelines to consider when choosing a business BFF:

  • Listen: You need to discover the needs and wants of your prospective partner. If you don’t share common goals, then it’s just not going to work.
  • Communicate: You have to talk to each other often and in person. Be intentional and transparent in letting your partner know what is and isn’t working.
  • Appreciate: Don’t miss an opportunity to say “thank you” — publicly if possible, by giving credit to your partner.

My team began to influence change in workplace culture the moment we saw that we were more than just the four figurative walls that enclosed us. The balcony view revealed potential symbiotic relationships that not only solved our problem about realizing projects, but also produced benefits across several businesses, which continue to evolve and flourish today.

Hugo Balta

Hugo Balta is the senior director of Hispanic Initiatives at ESPN. His work focuses on collaborative projects across platforms and networks focused on best serving U.S. Hispanics. Find more articles like these on his blog, Straight Talk.

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