Three tips for managing creatives.

pencils


Today I’m excited to have a guest post from the amazing and talented Monica Garcia

Monica is a freelance writer and marketing consultant.  She’s a native of the Columbia River Gorge, and mom to a three year old Star Trek nerd.

I’ve had all kinds of jobs in my life.  I’ve bussed dishes in a cafe, made espresso drinks, and had countless customer service gigs.  I even had a brief stint as an obituary writer.  More often than not, being able to do use design software and having a talent for writing has landed me what I’d call “part-time” creative work, or a job where I get to use my creative skills in addition to more administrative duties.  What I’ve learned over the years is that using your creative skills flexes very different muscles than other types of work, and sometimes managers don’t seem to grasp the differences.  With that in mind I came up with my top three tips to keep your creative staff happy by showing you understand the unique challenges that creative gigs present.

1. Output requires input.  I think it is pretty widely accepted that you can’t be a good writer without being a dutiful reader, but somehow folks fail to see the direct connection when it comes to an employee on the clock.

Even creative people can’t always tell where inspiration will come from, so when managers start looking over our shoulders to see if we are “wasting time” it can put undue stress on an already stressed out person trying to pull something artistic out of a hat.

Design is everywhere.  Words are everywhere.  Inspiration abounds and creative people require huge amounts of input to churn out new and interesting work.  A walk in the park, thumbing through magazine, reading an interesting science article – any of these can prove inspirational.  Rather than trying to decide for a creative person what is applicable to their process, I think most of us would prefer that our managers build in some time for us to gather the input we need, and have the effectiveness of our time use be evaluated by our output.

2. Creative work isn’t made for multitasking.  A creative person may like to have several creative projects going at the same time so she doesn’t get bored, but I’m talking about asking your creative professionals to accept duties that require frequent interruption like answering phones or helping customers.  Can it be done?  Sure.  Is it a recipe for madness and mediocre results?  Certainly.  For most creative people concentration is key to getting desirable results, and a barrage of frequent interruptions not only slows down the process, it can completely stifle it.

3. A lot of us creatives don’t take criticism well.  Ever see the posters made by designers to illustrate the worst client feedback they ever received?  Yeah, well, sometimes the most well intentioned feedback comes across like a customer telling their mechanic which wrench to use to fix the car.  Still bosses and clients have to give feedback, and my favorite managers were the ones that gave me lots of information up front and less as the project progressed.  More information in the initial planning stages of a project is almost always preferable (and more efficient) than endless revisions.

Once a creative employee presents their work for review, think about giving feedback like a book editor.  Skilled editors know the difference between a sentence that is tragically ungrammatical, and a sentence that is soundly written, but perhaps just phrased differently than the editor would have written it.  A great editor will hold back comments that would alter the author’s voice and style without offering clarification.  I think this philosophy can be expanded to cover most creative work.

Changes cost time, and by extension, money, so with any change it seems prudent to weigh the costs to the benefit.  Will a quick change clarify the message or make it more accessible?  Probably worth it.  Spending time adjusting the color scheme to match the bosses personal preferences?  Maybe not so much.  That’s a good time to take the role of editor and say to yourself, “it might not be my favorite color, but it gets the job done.”

Recognize too, that sometimes creatives knock it out of the park on the first try*.  If you want a happy creative staff, recognize and reward those home runs.  It might feel like you haven’t done your job unless you made a few changes, but believe me nothing makes a creative stop trying to hit one out of the park like the realization that no matter what they produce, the boss just has to tinker.

*Rarely does a creative person show their manager or client an actual first draft, so when I say “knocks it out of the park on the first try,” of course I’m talking about the first polished draft.

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

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