Thinking Inside the Box

August 7, 2018

Thinking Inside the Box

Thinking outside of the box has been a business go-to for years, but is it really as effective as we think it is? Brad Deutser offers a new method for thinking about and building organizational culture—thinking inside the box.


How does looking inside the box help companies find answers?


About two decades ago, I began to rethink the box paradigm, and using client results and research, began to validate that inside the box is actually where real creativity, innovation, and performance are birthed. Inside-the-box thinking allows leaders to have a clearly defined organization and direction and employees to have something that they can understand and belong to. It is one of the most powerful frameworks for leadership, especially the HR function, because it provides definition, sets expectations, and ensures clarity.


How does defining an organization’s foundation, purpose, focus, and culture help it to move forward?


The Clarity Process is predicated on a strong organizational identity, which is the bottom of the box. This is not only the foundation of the box--it is what drives and differentiates the company to each of its employees and external constituents. Even the highest performing organizations have an opportunity to visit and revisit their purpose, values, traditions, and organizational identity. This is where the greatest connectivity with the workforce is manifested. And, it provides an opportunity for critical thought by leadership and involvement by the employee base.


Organizational identity is the enduring essence of an organization.  What was true about this organization 10 years ago?  What is true today?  What needs to be true 10 years from now?  Identity is not something that can be copied from others and it serves as the anchor that grounds an organization and acts as the filter through which it screens its actions. When leadership and employees understand what is distinct about the organization along with what is valued they can see their culture for what it is and are able to identify what they want it to be while working to fiercely protect what must never change. 


What steps can a company take to find its “box”?


Understanding the construct of the box is fundamental to an organization being “in clarity.” Most people think about their box as a flat four-sided box. But in reality, the box is dimensional and six-sided. The sides are Direction, Operations, People, and Engagement. When leaders understand the totality of their unique box, as well as the relation of the sides (Direction and Operations form the strategic system; People and Engagement form the culture system) and the requisite balance between the two, they are able to better and more purposefully lead.


For the bottom of the box, we work through a powerful exercise to understand and begin to humanize the values, purpose, organizational characteristics, and behavioral drivers for the company. And, at the top of the box, we use a variety of exercises to analyze the outside environment and the external factors that are influencing their business.


What is the role of leadership in this process? The role of employees?


Clarity is dependent on the whole of the organization working in alignment. Both leaders and employees play a role in ensuring a company is not only in clarity, but remains in clarity.


Leaders have a responsibility to understand the construct of the box, to understand the dimensionality of their business, to identify alignments and misalignments, to know what levers to pull to purposely drive performance, and to humanize their work so that employees can understand and more fully engage and connect with the leader and the company.


Employees need to be consulted and connected to the process and provide honest feedback. When employees are asked for input, they are owed a level of response and action back.


How can a company be more human?


We always believe that people do business with people they know, like, and trust. This is true outside the company and perhaps even more on the inside. Thus, it is incumbent on the leader to attach more likable, human characteristics to multiple levels of the organization.


This starts with the bottom of the box and the organizations identity. We believe this foundational side must be humanized in a process we call “the organizational way” with fully articulated values and behaviors that define the expectation of every person in the company as well as traditions that are codified and protected. It is our belief that the companies that best bring this to life have the greatest opportunity to genuinely connect with their employees in much more meaningful and clear ways.


What role does HR leadership play in this critical journey?


Because clarity is all about people, there is no group of leaders that are more influential in its process than the HR leaders in companies. HR leaders are often the visionaries behind embracing the process and encouraging organizational leaders to adopt it in the first place. It provides tremendous control for the HR leadership because clarity is embedded across every critical area of the company. It is measurable, replicable, and reliable. HR leaders are often looking for different, more valuable data on their workforce, and this process provides rich, unique data that is directly linked to organizational performance. It provides new levels of measurement and accountability. And, with the definition of the organization’s identity and humanizing that is core to the process, it provides immensely valuable materials from which the HR leaders can more regularly engage and more importantly, connect with the workforce.


What are some successes you’ve seen with this process?


The magic of clarity is in the ability to unleash people, performance, and profit. Clients of all sizes and in diverse industries have experienced improved bottom line performance, increased alignment across all levels of the company, increased capacity for learning and growth (professional and personal) in ways that are beneficial for the company and the individual, increased customer satisfaction, improved safety and increased wellness, enhanced employee retention and individual performance, and increased happiness and optimism scores throughout the company.


What are the sticking points for companies?


There are many areas that leaders must be cognizant of as they look for potential areas of stickiness.

  • Energy of Alignment: Alignment must exist across all areas of the company to ensure a proper flow of positive, purposeful energy.
  • Compliant versus Committed: Leaders cannot be compliant – they must instead be committed – and demand that of their leadership team and workforce.
  • Good Kills: Good or very good companies are often the ones that kill ideas, progress, and even people.
  • Circuit Breakers: The leader often is the one who impedes her or his own energy and redirects focus – we call these “circuit breakers” and they can include fear, clutter, resources (often lack of), inference, stress, doubt, overconfidence, and labeling among others.
  • Masqueraders of Clarity: The leader also has the responsibility to identify and eliminate the “masqueraders of clarity” that are naturally part of the business environment. These can include policies, past performance, political correctness, boards, or compliance. Each of these masqueraders can trick the leader and the workforce and divert attention and energy away from the clarity that is necessary to move the organization and its performance forward.
The Authors: 

Brad Deutser is the founder and CEO of Deutser, an award-winning management consulting firm focused on helping organizations and their leaders achieve clarity to drive business performance, and the Deutser Clarity Institute, a think tank, idea accelerator, and innovative learning center. He is also the author of Leading Clarity: A Breakthrough Strategy to Unleash People, Profit and Performance. To learn more about Brad and Deutser, please visit and