Top Five Tips for Working with Creative People

Back in 2013, Harvard Business Review published an article entitled Seven Rules for Managing Creative-but-Difficult People.

Simply put, it was ludicrous. Author Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s depiction of creatives as untameable egocentrics who must be pandered to keep businesses afloat was cliched and narrow-minded.

The truth is that while creative employees are crucial to any business pursuing success and innovative, the reason logic-oriented leaders can find it hard to work with creatives is not because they’re arrogant eccentrics who know the value of their work, but because these leaders don’t know how to best utilise the skills creatives seek to provide.

Creatives can and will work well in the context of any business, provided they have the opportunity and freedom to give their all.

With that in mind, here are five quick tips for developing a beneficial environment for the creative cohort in your business:

1) Leverage the Abilities of Individuals

Let’s start with a question: why do you hire the people you hire? Because you recognise they have abilities and experience that make them suitable for a particular job at your company.

Here’s the thing though – just because they’re suitable for a particular job doesn’t mean their abilities aren’t useful across other aspects of the business. Take stock of that, and put their skills to use accordingly. Not only will they appreciate such demonstrations of trust and respect, but they will come to work happy and motivated, knowing the day will be put to good use.

2) Offer the Problem, not the Solution

There’s nothing creatives love more than being proposed a challenge that requires them to use their skills to formulate a solution.

There’s nothing creatives hate more than a leader who tries to tell them what this solution should look like.

Of course there are going to be time and financial limitations on any such project. Defining them is your job as a leader. Defining your goals is your job. Attempting to define solutions is not. Suggestions of this nature put creative limitations on projects – it’s hard to dismiss the ideas of the person paying for the work, even if you wouldn’t care if they did – and the end results are bound to suffer.

3) Establish Deadlines, but Keep Other Framework Loose

Here’s one cliche that will always prove true: creatives will never be totally happy with the work they create. They will tweak and tweak a project until someone forces them to stop.

A good leader knows how to keep creatives on deadlines, but leaves the rest of the framework to be built by those who will work within it. To get the best out of them, you must respect their need to structure their own process without feeling pressured to work in ways outside their comfort zones.

Be flexible, but keep them to task. They’ll appreciate it, even if they won’t admit it.

4) Keep Them Moving

Shock! Creatives are most happy when they’re creating.

Keep them moving to keep them motivated. Assign multiple projects to a person or group so that nobody spends time idle. Encourage them to pursue new opportunities and experiment within the frame of your organisation’s aspirations.

You could even consider a policy similar to Google’s much romanticised ‘20% Innovation Time’, which allows employees to spend time on ideas they might think will benefit the business. Succeed or fail, at least it keeps the proverbial juices flowing.

5) Be Critical

One of the most common fears leaders express regarding their relationship with creatives is fear of giving critical feedback. They worry that creatives will become offended, lose their motivation to commit to the work, or even quit.

Well fear no more. Not only do you have the obvious right to be critical – it’s your business and money, after all! – but like when you keep them to deadlines, a good creative appreciates honest feedback, no matter how trivial it may seem or out of your element you may feel.

The work will only get better when you are willing to tell them it can get better. So speak up, defend your perspective, and find a solution that will work for all.

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