💡Founder Feature: Danielle Boris
Founder & CEO at Sandbox
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In This Edition
📣 Discover the power of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
🏆 Learn how a Founder used her own product to help her team
📗 Preview her upcoming book before publication
Danielle Boris is an author, speaker, and the founder and CEO of Sandbox, an innovative platform that aligns people’s interests and skills with project needs to drive purpose and engagement for the organization.
What sparked your interest in organizational behavior and the future of work?
I vividly remember when I first learned about human behavior and decision-making. It was while attending a presentation analyzing an iconic commercial of a beloved brand — Coca-Cola. There’s this ad with a polar bear who is on an iceberg and dips its toe into the water and then jumps back because it’s so cold. Then, he drinks a Coke and is able to go into the water!
The presenter engaged us in conversation about the perception of what we saw on screen — what was colder and how did the bear decide to go into the water were a few of the questions he asked us. I found it fascinating how we process information and accept what we see.
Many years later, while pursuing my MBA, I decided to explore the application of organizational behavior while reading about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for my leadership class. This motivation theory really plays into decision-making (like the Polar Bear and what audiences thought of him), and I started to unpack it from there.
What inspired you to launch your startup — Sandbox?
Reading about this motivation theory validated my experiences at every organization where I had worked over the years. I would start a role intrinsically motivated by my work and excited by the challenges I was going to face and the opportunity to grow. But when I got there, I was forced to be motivated by the extrinsic factors — my salary, a promotion or that free cold brew on tap!
I had this experience across companies, including at organizations that were rated with some of the best cultures and extraordinary legacy companies that were over a hundred years old. Being a researcher at heart, I started talking to people about this question. I spoke to people across industries, functions and roles.
I asked individual contributors one fundamental question — “Tell me about a time when you knew a change needed to be made at work?” Immediately, everyone jumped to tell me about the day they knew they wanted to quit. I stopped them. I wanted to know about the months leading up to that moment. Nobody had ever asked them that before, they told me. When they started to feel disengaged at work, many of them tried to look internally for other people with interesting job titles and speak up to their manager to tell them what they wanted to work on.
What I found fascinating is that most of the time the employee didn't actually want to leave, they didn’t even want a new job, they were really happy with their job title and function, they just wanted the work to be more aligned with their interests and get that internal motivation back. But, they had no way forward.
I asked managers — “How do you decide which opportunities to place people on?” Without fail, every single manager said “I try to align my team's work with what they're interested in.” It was absolutely mind-blowing for me because all of the employees told me that managers just need the work to get done; they didn’t care if someone was interested. While managers were telling me that they care about who does the work, and they want to give team members work that aligns with their interests!
There was a big disconnect — people wanted to find work that was interesting and managers wanted people who were interested in the work doing the work. But, this wasn’t happening. That was the insight that led to Sandbox — a way for people to share what they wanted to work on and for opportunity owners to see what people want to work on at the time an opportunity came up. We bridge that gap.
How does Sandbox work?
Our primary offering is our web-based platform. Sandbox takes the guesswork out of putting together an optimal team. We put the right people in the right room. Managers input an opportunity (project, initiative, or job) and immediately identify ideal team members based on their 5 key interests.
Our platform encourages people to advocate for themselves without vocally speaking up by digitally raising their hands to express their interest in an opportunity.
We created the first of its kind real-time ‘Alignment Guage' which indicates who is being overlooked for opportunities, giving leaders the tools to create inclusive, engaged teams. Using Sandbox’s insights, managers see where DEI and inclusivity initiatives are falling short — and take the immediate opportunity to correct course.
Companies struggle with diversity, engagement, retention, hiring, and burnout. Our platform provides individualized, real-time insights that allow leaders to create inclusive teams and reach their ESG goals.
What have you learned as you launched Sandbox?
Our early pilots found that there was a misalignment of up to 75% with teams as small as three. It was shocking because these were small teams who work very closely together and should know everything about each other.
We realized that the work was getting siloed — the engineer was just focusing on engineering and the MBA was only working on the sales, marketing and finance projects. In fact, there were engineers who were actually interested in marketing because it was analytical and they could change algorithms based on the insights. The MBA had an interest in design and user experience. If everyone shifted what they were working on, this would have helped the team members and the startup succeed.
We’ve worked with companies from technology to interior design and everything in between. We’ve found that our program works well with the teams that already have psychological safety and are trying to engage their teams. The common thread is that they know people work best when they love what they do, and the organizations are already trying to instill this in their company.
We are currently taking on ten more partners and working through a curated four-stage program to help these organizations achieve their impact and ESG goals.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
At another time, we were reviewing a project and I could sense his energy had changed. I asked him how he was feeling about the project and he said he wasn’t inspired by it. So, I told him to take a break from working on it. This isn’t a typical mentality for organizations. I encouraged him to go look at our Sandbox opportunities and find something else that energized him. He found a project of interest and was re-inspired by his work. He ended up finishing both of the projects within a few days. By changing our mindset from “just get the work done” to “do we feel excited and inspired by what we are working on,” we can dramatically improve employee engagement, productivity, and well-being, while driving results for the organization.
If the only way to know about opportunities is by speaking up, then we are introducing bias into our system at the start. If we are only relying on people overhearing opportunities and then having the gumption to volunteer for them, we're missing out on so much creativity and innovation. When we share the opportunities in Sandbox for anyone to raise their hand and for an opportunity owner to see interest and add someone to a team, we’re enabling organizations, managers, and employees to win together!
Can you give us a preview of what your upcoming book, The Energy of Weirdos is about?
Every person on this planet is unique and only by tapping into what makes us ourselves — our interests, experiences and perspectives— can we truly unlock enthusiasm, creativity and innovation at work.
We're all weird in our own way, and by focusing on what makes us whole humans, we can shift the organizational paradigms from engaged to inspired, productive to motivated, and retained to enthusiastic.
The Energy of Weirdos gives leaders the simple tactics they can use to drive the change they want to see.
How is the work you're leading collaborating with Internal and Executive Communications?
Leaders believe in getting to know their team members and creating an inclusive work environment. When we use the word team too loosely, it can be problematic. For teams to flourish, we need to ensure psychological safety. That’s where internal communications helps with that messaging.
Regarding Executive Communications, our platform works with leaders to change their mindsets. I spoke with a CEO who said someone recently spoke up to her manager and that she wasn’t happy with her work. He said it was a success story because this individual felt empowered to share and he is helping her find the opportunity right fit in the organization. But, he’s searching for that opportunity for her and the team member has been sitting at her desk for the last 2 weeks feeling uncared for because no communication has transpired.
Instead of her sitting there while you're trying to float ideas, imagine if instead she could log into the company’s Sandbox, see opportunities, and raise her hand for ones that interested her. She would take ownership of her own career and re-inspire herself. We assume that people know what we're doing and what we're working on, but people don't unless with communicate with them. These conversations have to happen and action must happen afterward. People need to have autonomy over their own careers, and when organizations are able to tap into everything their team members know, it is extraordinarily powerful.
How do you continue learning about your field?
I am very big on nonfiction books! I read a lot about positive psychology, mindfulness and happiness. Drive, by Daniel Pink is a great read. As well as Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert and Brave, not perfect, by Reshma Saujani.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, including Design Matters with Debbie Millman, How I Built This by Guy Raz and Work Life by Adam Grant.
I often turn to academic journals to see if there's any research on the topics I’m curious about — intrinsic motivation and creativity have been essential reads.
I also really enjoy having conversations and talking to other people. That’s what led to my book, just having these discussions and learning from others.
Thank you for reading The Switchboard. ☎️ Every edition is personally curated by me — Julia Levy. This post is based on a live interview conversation and edited for publication. Learn more about why I write.
🙏🏼 Do you want to recognize a colleague for the Kindness at Work Honor Roll? Share a story of a team member exemplifying empathy by August 1st. Learn More.