Okay, so where am I?
I'm still recovering from the red carpet at the Oscars. Every year, for seven straight years, the photographers pit takes a little more from me. This year I may have brought back the flu bug from either the hundred or so camera clickers or the one of the beautiful people who lined the frenzied madness of the 9Oscars Red Carpet. I mean take a look at this:
In this time after awards season, I reflect on the year ahead and the year behind me for a strategic gut check. It's important to self reflect and make sure the you keep rowing your boat in the right direction. Age has its advantages, but complacency it often the plague that diverts you from your goals. I like to circle a huge goal and assess my talents. The last couple of years netted me some great accomplishments: lots of gold and silver statues (read some of the 2016 and 2017 columns for details), some brushes with getting the Media Guy Struggles script made into a pilot (close but no cigar), and a fourth book published (pretty good). This year I'm gunning to complete the framework of a documentary I've been eyeing for a few years. I'm not sure it will be as good as Icarus or Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, but go big or go home.
In my younger days, I was very totalitarian with a "my way or the highway" approach to managing, but today I like to say: “teams made up of diverse members who are open to taking each others' perspective perform most creatively.” I guess that's when totalitarianism meets socialism. Laugh all you want but look at my staffs for the last twentysomething years and you see one thing: low staff overturn and massive productivity.
Back in the day, I wanted everything done in a few minutes. That didn't work then and it doesn't work today. I think I finally realized that watching an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper defended his creatives to new management calling them out for being lazy:
“You came here because we do this better than you, and part of that is letting our creatives be unproductive until they are.”So simple, and yet it pretty much says it all when it comes to effective talent management for creative people. Let them be unproductive until they are. A very difficult pill for task-oriented managers to swallow, but an absolutely crucial prescription for the creative potential.
So for those stuck on how to get the most out of your creative team, keeping them happy and motivated, let's drill down a little bit more.
Having a creative workplace is critical to great work. I mean some agencies or departments really go to town with central meeting spaces looking more like a spoiled teenager’s bedroom with big screen televisions, PS4s, pool tables, and Slurpee machines. This where staff emerge from their office to unwind, brainstorm, bounce ideas off each other while bouncing racquet balls off the wall. Does this mean the creatives are a bunch of immature lunkheads who play all day and get very little work done? Maybe. But I say let them be unproductive until they are. The math of it all usually works out and the clients are always more than happy with the results no matter how hard they fight the process.
Employees need a work environment that inspires their creativity. This can sometimes be as simple as positive performance appraisal or by giving them the right personal music to listen to. Daydreams and pie-in-the-sky ideas produce the best inspiration because we are relaxed, calm, out from under the weight of managerial pressures.
The right colors, lighting, furniture, all have tremendous impact on our moods, energy, productivity, and creative ideas are often a reflection of the mood we are in. This is why a lot of musicians prefer to live in darkness, as it helps them tap into their anger and sadness to create some of those head banging or tear jerking songs.
Creatives are not paid huge salaries, and yet we often work into the evenings and over the weekends to meet important deadlines. But why would anyone do anything if the cash isn’t there? It has been proven again and again that creative people are not motivated by money. For simple tasks, yes. You offer a cash bonus to the employee who can lick the most stamps, and watch as the tongues start to fly! But offer the same incentive to whoever creates the best jingle for your company’s new cereal, and you’ll get some really lousy jingles.
“People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself, not by external pressures.”The Public Relations Society of America did a survey where they asked, “What matters most to you about your job?” If this were an Olympic event, money would have gone home empty-handed. Challenge and responsibility, flexibility, and a stable work environment took gold, silver and bronze respectfully, leaving money in fourth place. In fact, nine out of the top ten answers were about the work itself, the work environment, and the people they work with.
No one is given a bonus for impressing the pants off their clients with incredible ad campaign ideas. But they all beamed with pride for having worked so hard and would celebrate whenever their creativity was rewarded with a simple “Good job, the client loved it.
Creatives work their best when there is no one hovering over them, micromanaging their every move. They like to feel autonomous, like their own boss, independent and without distraction. This can be very difficult in an open office environment, where anyone can just walk up to you and ask you a question, or where you can hear conversations happening right next to you, or constantly getting bombarded with emails and instant messages. When creatives aren’t working together to brainstorm ideas, they need to be left alone.
Want to crush someone’s creativity? Get them to fill out a progress report before they’ve finished a project. Not only will this interrupt the process, but it will make them feel watched, managed, stifled.
This is not to say that creative people don’t respect deadlines, they very much do so, but they don’t need managers on their shoulders every step of the way. They want to channel their inner Greta Garbo ("I want to be alone.")
Of course not all interaction is negative. Your employees should be encouraged to brainstorm with others as often as possible. Creation can be a lonely journey sometimes, and ideas grow exponentially when more than one brain is working on something.
“Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise” – Dale CarnegieWhile creative employees give off the impression of being extremely strong and proud, lone wolves who ‘don’t need nothin’ from nobody’, who can just brush criticism off their shoulders like too much dandruff, are actually the complete opposite. They are like delicate egg shells, and can very easily crack if not handled with care.
Creatives are very sensitive, especially where their work is concerned. And while they don’t need extra money to do a good job, they definitely need a pat on the back for a job well done.