Creative people are a fickle and sometimes hypersensitive bunch, and I love them. As co-founder of design and digital studio Thornberg & Forester, I collaborate with creative minds internally and externally all day every day, and have for the past 15 years.
Don’t have any creatives in your company? Chances are you will hire them at some point (either as staff or on a contract) as you develop your brand and create marketing communication tools or campaigns for your business. Many people in management positions are Type A personalities. This is the exact opposite of how most creatives work, so here are a few rules of the road to make your working relationship mutually delightful and profitable.
Be as Clear as Possible
If you are collaborating on a project, give them the information they need early and be very thoughtful about how you articulate and verbalize your request or creative brief. Like any first impression, how and what you communicate will get the project off on the right foot, or it could make things go wrong. Give a huge amount of input early, and be sure it is understood. That means one-on-one conversations rather than sliding a brief under someone’s door.
Take a Step Back
If you were successful in step one, go away, be quiet, and leave them alone for a while—but know when to rein them in or give them a little nudge if needed. Point being, creatives need unstructured time at this phase.
Check in with Constructive Criticism
Some creatives get swept up in being creative for creativity’s sake, so check in to be sure the executions are on point when it comes to your brand strategy and business objectives. This guidance is critical and must be delivered constructively since many people take their work extremely personally.
Create a Solid Deadline
Finally, know when to say the project is finished. Creatives can sometimes iterate and tweak forever, and at some point you need to know when to say when while being sensitive to their perfectionism and detailed craftsmanship.
Give Them Some Space
In general you do not need, or want, to shelter or baby creatives in your company, but instead keep them clear of politics and bureaucracy. They need physical and mental space for their imaginations to wander, so avoid the ever popular open plan office, or if you have one, be sure there are rooms available for people to be alone and just stare at a white wall.
Understand Them as Individuals
To that point, some creatives prefer working like lone wolves and others like to brainstorm and operate more effectively in a group. Whatever the case, creatives are only worth their a-ha moments, so it is your job to genuinely understand each individual in your company and give them the freedom to work in the style that best suits them. Yes, this level of attention and sensitivity generates more work for you, but it is one of the easiest and most important investments you can make in your team.
Appreciate Their Value
The golden rule of HR applies here as well: hire people who are smarter than you. Being humble helps you become more productive and get ahead of your competition. Set your creatives up to succeed, and in doing so, never give the fruits of their labor away for free. Creativity is constantly undervalued and pricing it can be challenging, particularly if you are creating something that has never been done before. Therefore, it is crucial to champion and enhance the value of creative people in your company and find ways to make the work they are creating measurable.
Understand the Balance
Most CEOs care less about the nuances of a creative marketing campaign and more about the ROI. While this may be obvious to you or I, some creatives don’t get—and must consistently be reminded of—the delicate but tightly braided intersection of creativity and business. Creative teams who master this will truly succeed. Those who don’t succeed can still have wonderful careers making eye candy and visual wallpaper, but financial rewards come with profound business results and acumen.
While fostering the creative people in your company can be a fine balance to maintain, it is a learned process, and will vary from person to person. Determining the best working relationship will promote the creative's work, and allow them to flourish, producing work, ideas, and concepts that will be best for you, your brand, and your clients. Knowing when to step away, or to rein them in, will remain critical to your collaboration, but as a whole, should still be a rewarding experience, allowing you to peer into the process and mind of a person who may approach things in ways you never expected.
Elizabeth Kiehner is a founding partner of the awarding winning design and digital production studio Thornberg & Forester.