One of the best ways to generate a culture of engagement that allows people’s skills and personalities to shine through is to enable what I call a “sandbox culture”.
For those of you familiar in the tech and electronic gaming world, a sandbox mode allows a player to enter an “open-play mode” and enjoy the game with free reign, many times without certain objectives or rules, but still within the confines of the game parameters.
A sandbox culture is similar, in that it’s an organization that has a firm parameter of core values and vision, but allows their people to freely explore and innovate, think outside of the box, and pursue new ways of attaining goals and objectives, all the while operating within the brand and culture of the company.
The groundwork for having a sandbox culture can be found as early as Tom Peter and Robert Waterman’s book “In Search of Excellence”. The introduction of “simultaneous loose-tight properties” in which centralized values were coupled with autonomy for individuals and team to get the job done.
Jim Collins further explored this concept in “Built To Last” over several chapters. His emphasis on companies that “preserved the core” while “stimulating progress” showed how organizations can develop a “cult like culture” but allow their people to “try a lot of stuff and keep what works” on their way to success.
The reasons for having a sandbox culture are twofold and simple to understand, particularly when you think of children playing in a sandbox at the playground. Here is how this type of culture positively impacts your organization:
- It establishes a solid and successful framework. Any successful business needs parameters in which they operate, without it, an organizations looses it’s place and erodes away. Much like the wooden or plastic boundaries of a sandbox, it keeps the landscape intact and prevents washing or drifting away from outside forces. Establishing a framework with solid core values, vision, and brand identity will keep your company together.
- It allows for innovation within the culture. Place 15 kids in a giant sandbox, and you’ll find 15 different ways to play in the same area. Sand castles, burying toys, sifting through the sand, digging bare toes in are just a few of innovative ways children use free play in the sandbox. As an organization, if you allow your teams to freely innovate and problem solve, all within the context of your brand and values, you allow the ability to be creative and develop new approaches to goals and challenges.
Although they don’t explicitly mention it in these terms, companies such as HP and 3M historically have a preserved core in who they are but allow room in the innovation sandbox to pursue new technology and research. Many marketing and consulting firms have a similar method, such as Fahrenheit 212.
By having your people, including leadership, play in the sandbox can also allow you to explore how new business or innovation can stretch your framework while still keeping the core intact. Sandboxes can get bigger, deeper, and allow for more reach provided the vision and values stay intact and don’t inhibit creativity in any aspect.
Go out today and explore ways to play in the sandbox and develop a unique culture in your organization.
(Today’s guest post is courtesy of Paul Larsen. Paul is an executive coach whose latest book, Finding Your Voice as a Leader, will encourage you to build your leadership brand. Below is some of the wisdom Paul has used in writing his book.)
The leader who can influence successfully is a leader who never has to remind people who the leader is. Finding your voice as a leader requires the mature development and flexing of your INFLUENCE muscle. Once you’ve identified your Values and Outcomes, the third step to find your voice as a leader is to build relationships with Influence and credibility. How do you influence and align yourself and your community to maximize your opportunities and results? Recognizing and developing your communities of influence is key to being successful in finding and using your leadership voice.
Influence. Persuade. Coax. Convince. Sway. Motivate. Whatever you call it, the next step in finding your voice is to use your influence to get what you want or need. Your team. Your organization. Your communities. Your relationships. Yourself. Using your influence means building relationships with those around you and yourself. It’s about encouraging, motivating, and getting people to follow you. To be successful in influencing your outcomes is to be congruent with your beliefs.
You need to have the ability to believe in yourself, your values, your goals, and your outcomes, and to tell your compelling vision and story in a way that influences those around you. When you use influence successfully, you get people to trust and respect you—no matter what role you play. Influence is not about your title or role. Manager. Parent. Owner. VP. You don’t need a title to influence. As I mentioned earlier, finding your voice as a leader is not about TALKING LOUDER, YELLING, OR SHOUTING. That only makes you look weak, not persuasive. You don’t need a voice on STEROIDS to influence.
The Quiet Voice.
Much has been written lately about the “quiet leadership voice.” Influencing successfully within a global environment while increasing team engagement via the ever-changing landscape of our vibrant social technologies are just some of the opportunities leaders are challenged with when they find and use their unique leadership voice.
Many times, those who have the most influence are not the ones with the most power or authority. They have a tranquil voice which is used as an influential force, not only for their needs but for the needs of others. Being a successful influencer means that you put your attention on what you can influence versus what you can’t influence. In other words, you need to determine your “spheres of influence” so you can focus your values and outcomes on what you can change and what you can influence. Don’t waste your time and energy on outcomes and people you can’t change or influence.
Paul N. Larsen, MA, CPPC, is a Certified Professional Performance Coach and an experienced leadership consultant and speaker. He has over 30 years’ business experience with executive and senior-level responsibilities within small and large companies, including being the Chief Human Resources Officer for a $3 billion organization. Paul partners with industry-wide leaders and teams from Fortune 100, start-up, and high-tech environments to find their unique leadership “VOICE” and create compelling and purposeful outcomes for their organizations. He has a proven track record with organizations such as SAP, Electronic Arts Twitter, and Walmart. Read more about Paul and his latest book, Finding Your VOICE as a Leader at www.paulnlarsen.com.
One of the core tenets in leadership is to allow innovation, growth, and talent to flourish in your people. The best way to do that as a leader is to continually seek out barriers that prevent your people from performing at their peak.
We have all heard that a great leader knows their people – their strengths and weaknesses, desires and goals. But even more than that, a great leader knows what their people have to work with, through, around, and against. Many times that comes from internal variables within the employee – confidence, vision, belief, unknown talent or skills. And at other times those barriers come from external forces – policy, training barriers, physical barriers, technical issues, and so on. Even culture can play a major role in being a barrier to employee growth and performance.
As a leader, you need to understand your business and your people so well that you identify and demolish each and every barrier that inhibits your employees from getting the job done. This may involve:
- Focused and extra training
- Moving desks, machines, and other equipment around to foster workflow or communication
- Overcoming geography for remote or field workers
- Deep-diving into tech issues or systems that employees must shortcut in order to operate around
- Overhauling culture to enable innovation, teamwork, and positive and consistent accountability among everyone in the organization
- Having a 1-to-1 temperature check with the person to ensure culture alignment, job understanding, and willingness to perform to the goal
- Reviewing wage and benefit assignments, jobs descriptions, and other HR speed bumps
- Digging in and promoting the vision and core values and keeping them at the forefront at all times
Each company and each employee will yield differing barriers. In fact, an organization with 100 employees can theoretically have 100 different barriers due to each individuals interaction with the variables at play. This takes work and concerted effort, but is a necessary charge for the leaders to ensure their teams operate smoothly and efficiently.
Demolish the barriers that stifle your people. Create a freeway that allows them to speed up their growth and impact in your organization.