Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Reece Akhtar for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.
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In any team or organization, some individuals are consistently more likely to come up with ideas that are both novel and useful. These ideas are the seeds of innovation: the intellectual foundation for any new products and services that enable some organizations to gain a competitive advantage over others. However, organizations are often unable to put in place the right processes, leadership, and culture to turn creative ideas into actual innovations, which causes even their most creative employees to underperform. This mismanagement of innovation is further exacerbated by the fact that managing creatives tend to require special attention and consideration. Indeed, decades of psychological research suggests that creative people are quite different from others when it comes to personality, values, and abilities. In light of that, here are eight evidence-based recommendations to get the most out of your creative employees and to stop them from underperforming:
- Assign them to the right roles: No matter what industry or job people are in, they will generally perform better when you can maximize the fit between their natural behavioral tendencies and the role they are in. This is why the same person will excel in some roles but struggle in others. Thus, if you want your creative employees to do well, you should deploy them in tasks that are meaningful and relevant to them. In fact, research shows that while creative people are generally more likely to experience higher levels of intrinsic motivation, they also perform worse when not intrinsically motivated. There is therefore a higher cost and productivity loss when your disengaged employees are creative; but the benefits of engaging them are also higher.
- Build a team around them: It’s been said that there are “no statues of committees,” but innovation is always the result of coordinated human activity — people combining their diverse abilities and interests to translate creative ideas into actual innovations. Just try managing a team full of creatives and you will see that very little gets done. In contrast, if you can surround your creative employees with good implementers, networkers, and detail-oriented project managers, you can expect good things to happen — such are the benefits of cognitive diversity. Whether in sports, music, or regular office jobs, creatives will thrive if they are part of a team that is able to turn their ideas into actual products and services, freeing them up from implementation.
- Reward innovation: You get what you measure, so there’s no point in glorifying creativity and innovation if you then reward people for doing what they are told. Paying lip service to innovation will frustrate your creative employees, who will feel underutilized if you show indifference to their creative ideas and imaginations. Conversely, if you actually incentivize people to come up with new ideas, to think outside the box, and to devote some of their energy to improving existing processes, products, and services, you will notice that even those who are not naturally creative will attempt to do things differently and contribute to innovation.
- Tolerate their dark side (but only up to a point): Everybody has a dark side, defined as his or her undesirable or toxic behavioral tendencies. Research has shown that creative individuals are naturally more irritable, moody, and hard to please. Furthermore, because of their imaginative disposition, creatives may come across as odd or eccentric, and they often specialize in making simple things complex, rather than the other way around. However, these non-conformist and individualistic tendencies also provide some of the raw ingredients for creativity: it is usually those who are likely to question the status quo and defy existing norms and traditions that push the most for innovations to happen. As the artist Banksy recently posted on Instagram when he made one of his art works self-destruct at a recent auction (just after the buyer spent over $1.3 million on it): “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge”. In contrast, if you only hire people who are well-behaved and do what you tell them, you can forget about innovation! However, it should be needless to say, no matter how creative employees are, there is no excuse for misbehaving or harming other employees and the organization.
- Challenge them: Few things are more demotivating than being asked to do very easy and unchallenging work, and this is especially true when employees are creative. Data show that in the U.S., 46% of employees see themselves as overqualified for their jobs. This makes it critical to push your employees beyond their level of comfort. Failing to do so will significantly increase disengagement, turnover, and poor psychological health. Investigating this issue, researchers found that situational factors can mitigate these effects. Organizations that provide their most talented people with personalized development plans and mentoring opportunities, and that promote a culture of support and inclusion, will benefit from increased creative performance. Providing such opportunities may be a heavy lift for some organizations, yet failing to do so will risk losing their creative talent to competitors.
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