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How to Manage Creative Talent Without Stifling Creativity

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When originality is the beating heart of your business, creative people are your lifeblood. But with creativity comes an appetite for change and a desire for varied work that expands portfolios. The Wow Agency Survey 2017, sponsored by Adam, found that agencies are experiencing a 17% turnover rate, which means there’s a good chance you’ll be looking for new creative talent this year. Bringing new talent into the business is expensive and risky. Which makes managing creative talent, without stifling creativity, essential to staff retention. Achieving this balance can be a challenge, so here are some tips to help you keep hold of your best creative minds with additional expert advice from Steven Swann and Ingrid Olmesdahl from Mando Agency.

Give Your Creatives the Big Picture

Creative Director Steven Swann at Mando Agency knows the importance of this.“Managing creative talent can be challenging. Sometimes, staff fail to understand the importance of ownership or don’t see the business benefits up-skilling can bring. At times, creatives can fall into a doing mentality rather than a thinking one; bringing their mojo back is one of the most interesting management challenges.”

As Swann notes, getting a creative on board with a project isn’t about going into minor details or laying down the law about processes and management systems. Inspire them with the big picture, allow them to express their opinion and put them in charge of how they complete their work. Where possible, remove detailed task management so they can fully focus on the creative element of their role. Then weave business aims into the conversation without making them a focal point.

To keep work on track, informal progress discussions with suggested options to move things forward will ensure you meet project goals. Provide openings in the conversation to give your creative the opportunity to offer their feedback to keep them engaged.

Give Your Creatives Freedom

Creatives need space to run wild, generate ideas and apply them. They also need the freedom to fail and your support is critical to this. Yes, you need to deliver results, but part of the creative journey is to allow your people to try different approaches, no matter how crazy or absurd. And failure is often the precursor to furthering business success as Ingrid Olmesdahl (Strategic Relationship Manager) at Mando Agency notes:

“The best creative talent not only produce amazing work but really care about influencing and driving our business forward. It can be a challenge to ensure that our top talent are empowered to help drive Mando forward while still remaining focused on our core positioning as an agency.”

So, free your creatives, but be there to guide their thought process and channel energy into ideas that fit the brief.

Help your Team Understand One Another

Strong individualists, it’s not uncommon to find the most gifted and artistically minded souls are those who stand out from the crowd. You need them in your agency. But what about teamwork? A personality profiling tool like Insights Discovery, can help your creatives acknowledge and accept their personal styles and approaches to work. This heightened sense of self, aids understanding. Not only do they recognise how they need to work, they become more accepting of their teammates too.

Generating a positive business culture has been key to Mando Agency’s high retention rates for their top creative talent. As Olmesdahl says,

“Great creatives are in high demand; from our competitors, brands and start-ups. It’s so important to focus on more than salaries and benefits as they are no longer a differentiating factor. Culture, working on great work and having the opportunity to get involved with innovative new tech such as Chatbots, is what helps us keep our best creatives.”

Surround Them with the Right Team

Once you have a solid understanding of your team members’ personalities, use this knowledge to build effective project teams that work for everyone. Avoid putting people who thrive on process and detail in a role where they will come into regular contact with your creatives. Instead, round the team out with people who have a degree of inspiration but also have strong organisational and analytical capabilities. These people will understand where the creative is coming from without treading on their toes and they’ll keep the project on target.

Another way to make the most of different team members’ abilities is to use the Walt Disney brainstorming approach.This method starts by generating creative ideas before analysing them to identify practical issues and business risks. You’ll get a business-focussed outcome that works, without crushing your creatives.

Give them the Right Recognition

Monetary recognition isn’t always required, but this is where knowing your team will pay off. Most people who are passionate about their work find a simple thank you for a job well done, sufficient. For those who seek external approval, entering your creative’s best work into industry awards will make them feel appreciated and embellish their portfolios with peer-led recognition.

Give Them Creative Space

Creativity doesn’t come when chained to a desk. Allowing people to work outside, from home or in a coffee shop helps get the creative juices flowing and makes them feel more in control of what they’re doing. For innovative collaboration, make space in your office where creatives can bounce ideas off each other. Or, as Mando Agency’s Ingrid Olmesdahl notes, “having an innovation budget in place allows team members to work on innovative new projects, which keeps people working creatively and drives Mando forward. We also invest a lot of money into training and attending events which really helps to keep our teams engaged.”

Be Prepared to be Flexible

The best ideas don’t always come in on deadline. Be prepared to flex timescales or approaches to give your creatives the best opportunity to deliver something exceptional. Of course, there are limits to this approach, but building in some slack to projects may provide the space for ideas to thrive and take your project from average to amazing.

Remind them That the Grass Isn’t Always Greener

Keeping hold of good creatives is key to the role of a Creative Director, says Swann. “Talented people often leave because they don’t see a future within an agency and they want to go elsewhere to progress. I operate an open policy with my team and have bi-weekly 1-2-1s to ensure things are going well.”

To prevent your creative from jumping to another agency for more interesting projects, an honest discussion about the mix of work at all agencies will remind them that the grass isn’t always greener. And, when imaginative work is light on the ground, your creatives need to muck in with agency projects like everyone else.

“I would rather them be honest with me, and talk openly, so they can approach me when they may be thinking of leaving or if they have personal issues,” says Swann. “Happy creatives give better work and results. If your creatives aren’t happy you’ll always get mediocre.”

At times when work is slow, use the opportunity to allow your team to develop additional skills, attend events and share findings with the rest of the team. Not only will your creative benefit, but your team’s knowledge will improve too. Swann offers this advice:

“When creative work is slow, give your creatives time to think up innovative ideas for your client base. We do an agency-wide email every week, where I task a team member to provide insight to the world of digital experience. This gives them a voice and makes them feel important.”

Always Think One Step Ahead

No matter how well you manage your creative talent, people will leave. And getting the best people on board can take time. Ensure more senior creative people have longer notice periods to provide some breathing space and work with a specialist recruitment agency to secure the best talent.

When creatives are your ultimate differentiating talent, you need to get the best from their creative flair without stifling their creativity or putting them on a pedestal and alienating other employees. Give your creative people enough freedom so they can flourish whilst ensuring they deliver what’s required.

For support with talent management in the agency sector contact Leon Milns on 0207 871 7665 or at