By: Noah Rue
Often managers make two distinct and completely opposite sets of mistakes when they’re tasked with managing highly creative employees. By means of their leadership approach, they either don’t acknowledge the uniqueness of their creative employees or they take the recognition too far and essentially create inappropriate expectations and division within their workplace.
The key, as with much of life, is balance. Leadership that gets managing creative employees right is leadership that knows where to tweak and alter their expectations. They know relationships with employees shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all so that employees have everything they need to thrive and are given the freedom to do so.
Recognize Their Individualism
The thing that makes creative employees worthwhile to an organization is largely their ability to contribute ideas and perspectives that are new and innovative. That quality is what allows companies to become industry leaders.
For that reason it’s crucial that management makes a point to recognize individuals for the unique qualities they bring to the table. Leadership would do well to make a point of recognizing both the unique strengths and weaknesses of employees, and respond accordingly.
This means management will go out of their way to assess which team members will best take on certain aspects of a job. It can’t simply be a matter of blindly assigning team members, but rather a thoughtful approach that considers everyone’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.
According to Marin Perez for MileIQ, “Telling other people what to do isn’t usually hard, but that’s not how good delegation works. The key to delegating is understanding each team member’s unique strengths so you can give them tasks that closely match their abilities. When used properly, thoughtful delegation can become one of your most useful team management strategies.”
When that happens, management can best ensure that strengths are maximized and leveraged on behalf of the company, and weaknesses are minimized.
Have High Expectations
Creatives are notorious for getting bored. Not giving your people the work they need to remain engaged and in a consistent state of output can be detrimental. Whether it comes in the form of complex projects or multiple smaller projects, make sure your employees are in a work environment where they feel challenged and utilized.
Kuty Shalev writes for Entrepreneur, “To challenge and change assumptions, encourage employees to explore the current edges of their skill sets and afford them enough space to practice and expand.”
If your employees are not being given what they need, they’ll be uninspired at best, and at worst they’ll leave for a new company promising them more. You may have hired them to get a certain aspect of the job done, but companies that thrive beyond expectation are those who see the potential for future growth in their employees.
Cultivate an atmosphere that pushes employees to grow and welcomes their desires to do so. In many ways, your organization’s ability to succeed as a whole rests on hiring the types people who are ready and able to evolve.
Indeed, as the Collat School of Business has pointed out, adaptability is one of the top non-technical skills tech professionals can have given the fact that industry is changing rapidly, all the time. Creative employees are the perfect employees to keep pace with changes, and allow organizations to remain relevant.
Prevent Creative Burnout
That being said, it’s also crucial that management balances high expectations with employee care. As Rae Ann Fera wrote for Fast Company, management needs to “Encourage switching off to switch on,” because, “burning creative talent out is a legitimate concern.”
Management should strategically prepare employees for seasons when the company will likely be busy, and should promote rest and wellness throughout all seasons.
Personalize their feedback and praise: If you’re filling the ranks of your departments with unique individuals, you should also be recognizing them for their unique strengths. Make a point of not just seeing their strengths and utilizing them, but also of praising and recognizing them for their strengths.
Additionally, tailor feedback to meet the needs of individuals. It will demonstrate that they are valued for who they are, and that their personal goals are valued alongside the goals of the company.
Encourage them to get away from the office: Fast-paced industries have a reputation for going, going, going. But, it’s a research-backed truth that vacation time is good for employee productivity. But for ultra creative individuals, sitting on the couch likely won’t cut it. Instead, encourage them to continue thinking and growing in a different setting.
One of the reasons why science says vacations make better employees is that doing things like experiencing a new culture actually bolsters creativity and engagement.
Create a culture that emphasizes mental health: To avoid burnout, don’t make the mistake of focusing entirely on how your employees function professionally. If you want to make sure they have what they need, foster a company culture that values the whole person. A lack of regard for mental wellbeing is the worst kind of creative stifle, because it’s often almost impossible to spot.
Trust Their Abilities
It is no secret in the business world that micromanaging kills productivity, creativity, and ultimately drives employees away. What often begins as well-intentioned efforts on the part of leadership can quickly morph into detrimental tendencies.
Fleet Muall writes for Forbes about micromanagement, “In time, morale dives as employees lose faith in their boss’s trust in them. This hampers their drive to succeed, destroys organizational innovation, and decreases growth potential for both the employees and the company.”
This is especially true of highly creative employees who are far more likely to thrive in environments where there is a significant amount of agency and freedom.
Trusting creative employees means trusting that their instincts and tendencies are worthwhile. It often means managers allow employees to continue to work unhindered, even when those employees deviate from traditional or common practices and procedures. There is a risk inherent in this, but it’s a risk that often ends in reward.
Some within the business world believe that leadership must pick between creative employees who are a headache to lead, or mediocre employees who are easy to lead. That, however, is a false dichotomy that encourages leadership to approach employees with unhelpful, untrue preconceived notions.
It is worthwhile to consider, there’s no doubt about it. But, the reality is not that highly creative people are only worthwhile when you’re willing to accept their high maintenance tendencies. That approach is a surefire way to kill creativity and innovation.
Instead, employees will thrive when leadership is willing to tailor their environment in such a way that their strengths are fostered, and their abilities are embraced. The challenge for leadership is not who creative individuals are, but rather how to give them to space they need alongside others.
By Noah Rue
About the author
Noah Rue is a writer, a digital nomad, an ESL teacher, and an all around good dude, if he doesn’t say so himself.