Creative professionals tend to have a reputation for being difficult. The truth, according to Harvard Business Review is that, "There is a profile for good leaders, and a profile for creative people -- and they are rather different."
We can't expect our creative employees to have the same motivations and drives as those in less creative roles. Creativity, as a principle, requires some change. New people, new projects, and new challenges inspire employees to think about their work in new ways.
The creative employee depends on change, while most other employees depend on consistency. Recognizing that you need to adjust your leadership style for creative employees is the first step in encouraging their creative genius.
Running a publishing company, I work with my fair share of creatives. It is true that our cover designers want to feel like their work is valued. And it's true that our editors will become burned out if they work on the same type of book over and over again.
In my experience, there are two key factors that stifle creativity: time and feedback. Here are some tips to combat these creativity killers and bring out your team's best work.
At Greenleaf Book Group, we start each book with a production schedule, and our employees try extremely hard to hit the dates assigned to them. They know that schedule delays can have a domino effect, so the pressure to hit deadlines is high.
That said, if creatives are constantly working against a tight deadline, it leaves little room for play and experimentation. They fall into patterns of doing "what works" and cut out the risk-taking.
Planning ample time for a project is an easy solution, though not always feasible. In an ideal world, creatives would be given time at the start of a project to brainstorm and create without the headache of a pestering manager looking over their shoulders. As time goes on and deadlines approach, it then becomes more important for managers to step in and ensure that everything is on track.
If time isn't on your side, there are still a few things you can try to encourage creativity:
- Encourage collaboration and feedback among creatives. As Ed Catmull of Pixar puts it, "Any successful feedback system is built on empathy, on the idea that we are all in this together, that we understand your pain because we've experienced it ourselves." When time is tight, allowing employees to lean on each other for empathy and ideas can help foster creativity.
- Give them a side project. When we finalized our core values, we held a competition among the designers to create a poster for the office. Likewise, we regularly ask our editors to contribute to our website's blog. These projects break the repetition of their daily schedules and help get the creative juices flowing.
Anyone in a creative role knows that feedback comes with the territory. They know to build up a thick skin and to take pride in their work, even in the face of some negative critiques.
However, no matter how thick the skin, if a creative employee continues to receive negative or nitpicking feedback, they may start to question their place at the company.
Here are a few ways to manage the feedback that is going to your creative employees and ensure that it's productive:
- Make sure to set clear expectations with the creative team up front. It can be overwhelming to a creative employee to have total freedom and it likely won't yield the results you hope for. Give them a clear goal and make yourself available for questions along the way.
- Encourage your creative employees to be the subject-matter experts in their field. Send them to professional development courses or conferences to hone their skills. If a designer is able to point to industry trends, it gives her a stronger leg to stand on to defend or explain her work.
- Protect them from baseless feedback. If you see that the feedback your creative team receives regularly starts and ends with, "I don't like...," ask for further explanation. The point of receiving feedback is to draw on the expertise of others. Push employees to highlight that expertise when responding. Instead of "I don't like...," try for "Our sales numbers have shown that consumers don't respond well to..."
Managing a team of creatives can be a difficult task, but when done properly, the work they are able to produce can be astonishing. Keep these two creativity-blockers in mind, and your team will thank you.