How to Manage Highly Creative Employees

“The heart and soul of the company is creativity and innovation.”

-Bob Iger, CEO of Disney 

Highly creative people see the world through a unique lens. They seek innovation. They like pushing boundaries, physical and emotional, and embrace an adventurous nature. They are original thinkers and tend to be bright and very “quick on their feet.” They have an appreciation for beauty and are “idea people” who think outside the box.  However, Creative employees don’t always like to play by the rules — which can result in many managers feeling frustrated. Allowing the creative juices to flow within guidelines, deadlines and the demands of modern business is a constant test for the skilled manager when dealing with “creative types.” However, if you know how to nurture their creativity to help them grow, your company will reap many benefits. Here are some tips to encourage that growth.

Give Just Enough Structure

Finding the perfect balance of structure is key to encouraging productivity when working with highly creative people. Too much structure and minutia and you destroy their contribution; Give too little structure, and nothing gets done. Creatives often do their best work when they have some confines because they can use the boundaries to help drive creativity and inspiration in a specific direction. Sometimes too much freedom can send creatives in a million different directions and they’ll eventually end up in a whole different world.

Also, establishing a consistent, but not overbearing, communication process is key. This may mean hosting monthly or weekly team meetings that keep them excited about the project, or working with them to set up individual meetings to show your interest in their ideas and process.  This can help them stay accountable and on the same path. 

Pair Creative Employees with High Scorers in Endurance & Order

Research supports the common stereotype of many creatives as spontaneous, passionate, and unpredictable. For many highly creative people, order and structure are likely not their strongest suits, or they have a unique way of organizing their thoughts that may not be easily translatable. Dreaming & Strategizing motivates them but often their minds will go on tangents and by the time they’ve reached the end, they’ll be excited about a different idea. Thus, what may be a really innovative idea can end up not getting finished.  However, if you partner them with people who are good at finishing things (i.e.-High scorers in Endurance) and who have the ability to order and clarify ideas (i.e.-High scorers in Order), collaboration will flow and grow. 

Be flexible

Creatives aren’t exactly known for following the rules exactly as they’re written. When you’re managing a group of creative professionals, celebrate their eccentricities and let them do their thing.  Trust in their ability and avoid the temptation to micro-manage their every move. In an article in Forbes, Fleet Maull, writes, “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.”

Don’t overwhelm them with monotonous tasks

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience.” 

-Scott Barry Kaufman, Psychologist, New York University

A quick way to kill a creative person’s productivity is to assign them many monotonous tasks. High scorers in creativity enjoy fast paced, constantly changing environments. They love variety, originality and individual effort, which is in direct opposition to having to fill out a lot of tedious paperwork. 

Embrace Failure

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative people thrive off of taking risks. Although many of these risks can lead to epic failures, many creative people have cultivated a unique resilience that we have found to be one of the biggest predictors of success. 

Give them Space to Create

Creating the right environment and aesthetic is very important to highly creative people. Wherever it is, allow them to set the boundaries (within reason of course.)

Encourage them to Get Away from the Office

Highly creative people have a deep need to renew their inspiration and imagination, and often require periods of solitude to perform their best. Encourage this and you’ll get results. 

Taking these steps to inspire and encourage your highly creativity employees will reap many benefits for your company, and can make you stand out in an increasingly competitive market.

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