Influencing Workplace Culture From Outside The Paint

Basketball phenom Stephen Curry is known for draining three-point shots. The Golden State sharpshooter’s talent has been in 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 score board, that is to say influence change.

I often encounter roadblocks on my path to reaching or working with upper management; barriers most white male counterparts don’t confront. Now that might sound like sour grapes, but it is a statistical truth. Breaking through the glass ceiling for minorities can be frustrating unless you find alternative ways to apply influence.

When I agreed to becoming the Senior Director of Multicultural Content at ESPN Digital and Print Media, I quickly discovered that my title was the most robust aspect of my new position.

I was one of three members in the unit, no budget, no assignment privileges and plenty of skepticism from peers within the department and in the company. That’s not unusual for a position and team which had never existed before.

The newly formed unit’s charge was to join different editorial meetings and only make suggestions on how to include diverse perspectives (primarily of interest to U.S. Hispanic sports fans) in developing stories. Those first weeks on the job for me felt like being the last to be picked for a team at gym class…nobody wanted to, but they had to let me play.

While most sports editors found my team’s methodology of identifying, informing and educating useful, they generally believed their own teams lacked the resources to realize those types of stories. Now for many people in this situation, that’s where the story ends. They lose their enthusiasm and drive to innovate because they’re stunted by corporate culture barriers. But my fledgling team and I found an alternative to assimilating by becoming agents of change from the outside.


View From The Balcony

The first thing I needed to do in order to find solutions to the challenges the multicultural unit was facing was to step away from the workplace dance floor and on to what my coaches and professors at the Punch Sulzberger program at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism call “going to the balcony.”

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

It quickly became clear that the unit was very good at creating awareness, but struggled in getting the editorial teams to realize those opportunities. In fact, there was an expectation by many in the department that my team would be producing and delivering content. To my relief, the balcony view also revealed an intersectional opportunity.


Bridge Builders

ESPN Deportes is a domestic Spanish language network which collaborates with ESPN Mexico and Argentina in producing content across several platforms. While there are examples of ESPN drawing from this wealth of experience and talent; they’re too few to make a lasting impact. The key would be to build bridges between the English and Spanish language networks resulting in consistent collaboration in content production.

The initial opportunities came from outlining the coverage of BIG TICKET events like MLB’s World Series, Mexican football (soccer) league finals, NFL’s Super Bowl and other relevant major sporting events of interest to U.S. Hispanics. By providing additional funding, we now had partners who were willing to produce content which enhanced their own work (in Spanish) and created greater visibility (in English) in the workplace and marketplace.

Success has come by facilitating editorial meetings which not only create awareness of, but also realize opportunities: nurturing relationships, improving communication and integrating content key to the brand and business growth.

Since applying this system, the unit has collaborated and led the creation of new television specials, audio programs, focused digital segments, daily migration of content, development of new translation technology and the increase of audience share.


Symbiotic Relationships

Business mutualism is a proven method in overcoming limitations and inspiring innovation. Identifying the opportunity with ESPN Deportes did not guarantee success. Like in any relationship, the courtship took some time. My team needed to find out what were our intended’s likes and dislikes.

Three guidelines to consider when choosing a business BFF:

  • Listen: you need to find out what are the needs and wants of your prospective partner. If you don’t share common goals, 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 working and what is not.
  • Appreciate: Don’t miss an opportunity to say “thank you”; publicly if possible, by giving credit to your partner.

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

2 thoughts on “Influencing Workplace Culture From Outside The Paint

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said ” step away from the dance floor….going to the balcony.”
    What an interesting yet practical approach for a wholistic viewpoint from which to gain a better perspective. Greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

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