It has been a common thread through my life that managers can’t manage creatives. I have never understood why there was such trouble until I read this article in the HBR directed to managers of creatives. It became clear to me that the blind have been leading the blind as leaders with no skills/experience in managing creatives are telling others with no skills/experience HOW to manage creatives. I find it my duty to shed some light on the subject in hopes of sparing one, if not many other creatives from the same ill fate I have suffered.
First and foremost, creatives are different. They need to be treated differently. They didn’t learn in the same classrooms as you, and they didn’t walk the same line. They were encouraged to grow, experiment, break boundaries, and to be unique. To treat them the same as everyone else would be obtuse.
If you want the best out of them, you need to figure out what makes them tick.
Do give them time and freedom. It takes time to subconsciously think through thoughts and ideas for an upcoming project. Allow them to work through solutions without interruption. Don’t expect their best when you haven’t given an appropriate time frame to work in. I do not believe there are many creative emergencies in the world, an extra hour probably won’t kill anyone.
Don’t backseat design. Accept that you have probably never designed anything worthwhile except a family christmas card for your mom. Trust your creatives and their aesthetics. Don’t tell your creatives how to design, but do give specific feedback about their work in progress. Simply saying “I don’t like it” isn’t helpful; you’re going to have to use your big boy words and dig deeper than that.
Do thank and encourage. Any job well done is worth the appropriate accolades. Landing a client after 20 hours of OT in one week deserves more than ‘nice work’. Thank your creatives especially in front of others. Acknowledge their specific role, what they did well, and how their work has benefited the company. Also know that comp time is a universal way to say thanks.
Pay them. Pay them well. They love creating things, but that doesn’t mean they love creating them for you. They have a set of skills that are specialized, more so specialized than most people in your company. They can not only think up great ideas, they can make them realities. Thier ability to think visually is helping make your company a success.
Getting great work from your creatives is not a classified secret, if you still don’t know how to get more out of them, you could just ask them. Creatives are people too. Remember to use your humanity, your humility, and lastly - don’t be an asshole.