Today, more than ever, organizations need creative and innovative employees to help them develop new ideas, products, and services if they are to succeed in the globalized, highly competitive marketplace.
As a result, many organizations have set up “innovation departments” to create roadmaps, oversee innovation initiatives, and share best practices. Some companies have put in place assessment systems to measure employees’ capacities to innovate, and others provide training programs in creativity. Many companies have begun to evaluate candidates’ creative skills during the recruitment processes to ensure that innovative talent is identified and hired.
The problem with these measures, however, is that they are often decided on and deployed by the topmost levels of the organization. The leaders who spearhead these movements don’t always reflect on what is feasible at all levels of the organization or within all divisions, departments, and countries.
Furthermore, leaders rarely reflect on what, exactly, “creativity” means in terms of a company’s culture or practices, nor do they think about what makes creative minds thrive.
For an innovation strategy to be truly effective, the organizational culture has to actually foster an environment in which creative can truly thrive. To do that, companies need to know what kinds of things creative people need and expect from their workplaces in order to engaged in productive work.
With that in mind, here are seven things that creative people expect to find in an organization. Without them, a company will have a difficult time truly tapping into innovative talent:
1. Stimulating and Challenging Responsibilities
Typically, a creative person needs to be stretched. They will rarely thrive in a role where they have all the experience and expertise they need already. In fact, creative people much prefer roles where they are expected to deliver more than they know.
Most organizations fail to understand this. When they recruit for a role, they want to tick all the boxes under the “requirements” category of the job description. Therefore, they end up recruiting people who are good at delivering what is asked of them, but not at imagining new horizons, challenging the status quo, or creating new products and services.
2. The Freedom to Manage Their Own Working Hours
Researchers are still debating whether creative people need routines or, on the contrary, unstructured schedules. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Some creative people seem to thrive in routines that allow for set moments of intense work followed by time to unwind, during which the mind can playfully engage with new ideas. Others swear by unstructured flows, as they believe that new ideas emerge when least expected and that routine will kill the spontaneity that innovation requires.
There is no one-size-fits-all in this matter, so the best solution is to let employees decide when and how to organize their working hours, rather than imposing a standard nine-to-five for all.
3. Fast-Track Careers
Creative people tend to get bored easily. According to the Harvard Business Review, “creative people are prewired to seek constant change, even when it’s counterproductive.”
The first year in a new role is exciting to a creative person, because they are learning something new, developing new skills, meeting new people, implementing new initiatives, and trying to prove themselves. In the second year, they take on additional projects, tweaking their responsibilities freely to add more daily challenges and reap the benefits of their first-year’s investment. After that, however, they start to grow restless, and they may decide it’s time to move on. That’s why your organization needs to offer these creatives a chance to move into a new role – or you may lose them altogether.
Internal mobility and fast-track career paths are especially important to the creatives of Gen. Y. According to research from Future Workplace, 91 percent of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. Their managers, who are typically of the X and baby boomer generations, struggle to understand this need. They often interpret it as immaturity or impatience.
However, the fact is that organizations aspiring to retain creative people must take into the needs of creatives. They need to implement proactive, customized approaches to managing the various career aspirations of their employees – or else restless creatives will leave them behind.
4. A Culture of Risk-Taking
Every successful creative idea first started out as a risky venture. All organizations know this in theory. Yet, they end up creating work environments that cripple an employee’s risk-taking urges. Companies often put in place processes that endlessly delay projects, and their poorly defined governance systems can result in confusion. Many organizations also actively dissuade employees from questioning or criticizing the ways of the company, even when its practices and policies are completely inappropriate and stifling innovation.
In order for an innovator to flourish, your company needs to create what Lawrence Miller called “a culture of creative dissatisfaction.” Give employees the luxury of asking difficult questions, experimenting, making mistakes, and failing!
5. Meaning and a Sense of Purpose
Highly creative people need to know the bigger purpose behind their actions. The greater their understanding of the vision, the greater their passion for their work. Of course, an employee can only understand their employer’s vision if the company shares its mission, strategy, and long-term goals with its employees.
Large organizations have a tendency to withhold information and share only they consider “necessary” for employees to know. They forget that, in order to function effectively and be engaged in their work, many employees – whether or not they are “creative types” – need access to certain kinds of information.
In this respect, all creative people are similar in the sense that they are highly demanding of their organizations. They expect top management to be transparent and provide them with a clear sense of purpose.
6. Role Models to Emulate
Creative people must be able to see for themselves that top leaders and managers in the organization walk the walk – that is, leaders and managers themselves engaged in creative behaviors.
Top leaders should be known for making great leaps in innovation, for taking risky and unknown paths, and for challenging outdated but deep-rooted practices of the organization.
If leaders and managers encouraged one sort of behavior but display another, creative people are bound to grow frustrated – and their creative processes will suffer as a result.
7. A Culture That Rewards Creativity
According to Harvard professor Teresa Amabile, “people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself – not by external pressures.”
Similarly, it is believed that a creative person creates for the sheer pleasure of creation. The thrill of the work is reward itself.
This is only partly true. A highly creative person in an organization has several needs. Sure, they want their work to be rewarding, but they also want to feel trusted, to have the leeway to experiment and fail, to express their ideas fully, to be allowed to take risks, to be appreciated, and, above all, to be recognized and rewarded for their achievements.
Thus, organizations need to implement rewards programs that give creative people the recognition they deserve. These programs, it should be noted, cannot simply rest on traditional pay-for-performance methods. Creatives often desire more than that – though that doesn’t mean bonuses are always a bad idea. Creative people like paychecks, too.
While research on creativity continues to break new grounds, neuroscience is clear on one thing: highly creative people have minds that function differently from the average person.
Organizations faced with the urgent need to produce high-quality, sustainable products and services and reinvent their old models of business will never meet these goals unless they bring aboard the right creative people. These creative people can only function if the organization creates the kind of culture where creativity can truly thrive.
If your organization is really dedicated to innovation, then you’ll need to make sure you’re meeting the expectations of your creative workers.