As the InHOWse Design conference in Boston drew to a close I had become very enthusiastic about expanding the creative team at Cats Media, possibly adding more talent at our studio in Port Hope and definitely establishing a studio in our Toronto head office location. InHOWse is actually four conferences all running at once. The portion I attended was especially geared toward those who manage creative teams.
The general message was: creative people are unique and can be a handful to manage. Nevertheless, they are invaluable to the corporations they work for because they are designers, and designers create and interpret culture. Let’s face it, creative people think differently to the rest of the people in the corporate world. When the left brain thinkers of the business world meet the right brain thinkers of the design world and actually take steps toward one another in collaboration, amazing things can happen.
Andy Epstein is a designer, an author (‘The Corporate Creative, tips and tactics for thriving as an in-house designer.’), and leader of in-house design teams for several major corporations. He works hard to empower design teams and raise their profile in the business community. He was a presenter at InHOWse. He claims that being a creative person in a corporate environment can be ‘frustrating, mind-numbing, inspiration-killing, creativity-murdering, disheartening, demoralizing and demeaning.’ He also believes that in the corporate world designers can have a major impact by influencing the market. He sees many advantages to being in the corporate world as opposed to independent design firms. For example there is access to greater resources, security, better benefits, more stable hours and the camaraderie of working with a team. ‘Surviving and, more importantly, succeeding as a creative in the corporate environment is a balancing act between two extreme mindsets. It requires compromise without selling out, discipline without sacrificing spontaneity and control without giving up passion; the corporate culture needs to be met halfway but with integrity and honesty.’ Not everyone can do this.
Business requires focus but creativity demands freedom. There is no point in hiring creative people and not giving them creative freedom. But as managers, we are responsible for getting them to deliver results that meet business objectives. Managers need to become coaches of high level creative performance to help their team learn on the job. Balancing focus and freedom, the coach needs only to control certain critical elements and give the team freedom within clearly defined limits. Mark McGuiness, a business coach and trainer, specializes in working with creative professionals and has created this table to show how focus and freedom dovetail into coaching.
Goals (what) Process (how)
Once you have agreed on the goals (the what) the designer can be allowed the freedom to determine their own process (the how) in achieving the goal. The manager then asks questions rather than gives instructions to allow designers to come up with their own answers. And finally giving constructive feedback allows designers to revise and refine their own work. Focus and freedom are balanced.
David Baker, speaker and author of ‘Managing (Right) for the First Time’, states that many corporations make the mistake of combining account manager responsibilities with project manager responsibilities into one role. The two jobs require different skills and different personalities. The account manager role is a day to day role whereas the project manager bounces in from time to time to oversee a project’s direction. He also says that firms need to establish strong resourcing departments responsible for pricing, capacity management, quality control, managing outside resources and scheduling. Designers should not be held accountable to manage such tasks; it just isn’t the right fit.
Design leaders need to be strategic in their thinking by becoming partners in the business process; by having the right people on the right jobs and by being uncompromising when it comes to the quality of their team’s work. They also need to hire the best people with good chemistry who make a good fit. And strong leaders need to know how to protect their team and create a space for them where they can have freedom.
Armed with an improved understanding of the creative mindset and better understanding of hiring, strategizing and motivating creative teams, I am looking forward to building a stronger, more diverse team of professional men and women and moving my company forward.
Make a point to talk to your clients about your products and services as often as possible. Have regular conversations with them. That way you are more likely to fully understand how they feel about what you and your company is doing and what you are thinking about doing. Discuss the details with them. If you don’t talk to them, you will never really know what they are thinking.
It is vital that you know everything there is to know about who your competitors really are. What are they are working on? What are their products and services, their successes? How are they reaching their clients? I have mentioned before that my company takes market share away from companies who have never heard of us. They don’t know who we are or where we are. Know your competitors inside and out or they will take business away from you.
Just as you would clean out your kitchen drawers or your bedroom closet at home, the beginning of the year is a great time to clean and de-clutter your office. Take a deep breath. Get out the broom and sweep behind the shelving units. Pull out those pieces of furniture that haven’t been moved all year. Vacuum behind them and consider switching them around. It’s time to remove old and irrelevant marketing materials to reduce inventory and tidy up loose ends. Toss out papers and files that are years old. While you’re at it, toss out some tired old ideals too. A clean sweep is a cleansing exercise in a whole bunch of ways. It’s also energizing.
There is nothing worse than a leader who is bored. We all periodically reach a point where we should be doing something other than work. Family and friends may be diversions but if we are having trouble motivating ourselves we may need a change of environment. We may need a vacation. Vacations help us put everything back into perspective, they help us refresh and relax. It doesn’t matter how much work you have to do, you’ll do it much better and be a more interesting person if you take a break.
If you are going to assign someone a task that is new to them make absolutely certain that they completely understand the job. Don’t assume your colleague has the same knowledge about the project that you do. Chances are, because you are the one delegating the job, they don’t. Your team member needs an overview of the project including a brief history, the objective, why the task is important, timelines and the reason you are assigning the task to them. Our colleagues are not mind readers. If tasks are not properly communicated and expectations are not explained, it is almost impossible to complete the job at hand. Poor communication typically results in everyone feeling they have been let down.