hiring and managing creatives

Today we’re going to explore the intersection of creativity, innovation, and intrapreneurship (entrepreneurial activities occurring within an organization) and how these activities bring value to the business world. I hope you enjoy!

Innovation is a curious thing. In a research report published by the International Board of Innovation Science, Dennis Stauffer explored what separates wildly successful companies from the rest. Here’s a quote from the article that sheds light on the extent to which innovation drives value:

The research with entrepreneurs is especially noteworthy because it revealed the dramatic impact that this measure of innovativeness has on value creation. When those founders who scored highest on the Innovativeness Index were compared to those who scored lowest, the ventures of the high scorers averaged 34 times as much profit, 70 times as much revenue and employed 10 times as many people. They were also dramatically more likely to be one of the exceptionally high performers that investors call a “home run” (defined in this study as having achieved at least a million dollars in annual profits).

Companies everywhere are trying to create more innovative atmospheres for employees. But what if the answer isn’t open office space or an office beer cooler, but a higher engagement score?

Research by Gallup found that 61% of engaged employees feed off the creativity of their colleagues, compared to a mere 9% of disengaged employees. In addition, it found that 59% of engaged employees believe their job brings out their most creative ideas, compared to only 3% of disengaged employees.

Finally, are you familiar with the intrapreneur? This conversation will also touch on this type of person/personality and I want to make sure we’re on the same page.

Intrapreneurs are usually employees within a company who are assigned to work on a special idea or project, and they are instructed to develop the project like an entrepreneur would. Intrapreneurs usually have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal.

You can imagine the value of someone that takes ownership, manages a project like it was their own business, and seeks acceptable risks. But it requires a foundation of trust to make it work, and we can easily measure the value of that aspect: a recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high trust companies outperform low trust companies by nearly 300%!

All of these data points just go to show that creativity and innovation are incredibly valuable. The problem is that many companies are not at all prepared to manage people that fit the creative profile. Even those that say they want a workforce full of ideas and innovation usually back away once they realize the effort it takes. At the same time, you saw some of the research that shows the value of innovation in the workplace. While it might take some work, hiring these kinds of people can also provide amazing benefits for companies that are willing to commit.

Throughout this article we’re going to explore seven opportunities to help with hiring and managing creative people.

  1. Prepare for creative tension
  2. Seek wanderers
  3. Test their big picture thinking
  4. Encourage some nonconformity
  5. Let people share and vote on ideas
  6. Don’t hire “idea” people if you don’t plan to use their ideas
  7. Don’t treat creatives just like everyone else

Creative Tension is a Reality

People that are creative have a different way of seeing the world, and companies are often not set up to accept and embrace that kind of thinking. On the flip side, some companies seek out these types of people because they understand the value they can bring. A Boulder, Colorado-based marketing firm, Kapost, does just that. Here’s a snippet about their approach:

Recruiting, engaging, and retaining entrepreneurial employees depends in large part on a manager’s ability to discuss and facilitate career development. However, recruiters, managers, and executives are often poorly-equipped to lead these conversations. Toby Murdock, the founder and CEO of Boulder-based content marketing company Kapost, set out to fix that. His goal: to make his company the best place in Colorado to launch and accelerate a career in high tech.  Thanks to a compelling employee value proposition around career transformation, Toby has successfully recruited entrepreneurial employees into the company who might have otherwise been out of reach.

Consider that. Instead of being afraid of the turnover of losing those entrepreneurial employees a few years down the road, the CEO of Kapost decided to embrace it and reap the benefits of having those people working under his direction.

Research shows that 70% of entrepreneurs left the corporate world because they were too confined. I know that’s the case for me. Creative tension can either be painful and stressful on both parties, or it can be harnessed to develop innovative solutions to problems both small and large. Innovation matters.

An Accenture study of 500 US, UK, and French companies showed that 70% of executives considered innovation to be among the top five strategic priorities, and 67% said they are highly dependent on innovation for long-term success. However, less than one in five said they had realized a competitive advantage from their innovation strategies because they were too risk averse to take advantage of the potential opportunities. Hint: this is a problem, and it doesn’t exist solely in enterprise organizations. 

Seek Wanderers

I’m currently reading IGNITE: Setting Your Organization’s Culture on Fire with Innovation by Moss and Neff. It’s really good and full of stats and stories about how the authors have used and seen innovation in practice. One of the sections talks about how to hire intrapreneurial employees, and the authors encourage seeking “wanderers,” or people that are more likely to be curious, in the hiring process. The example the authors give is asking about a recent conference a candidate attended. Was it an assignment, or did the person request to attend? What session was their favorite? What takeaways or pieces of information did they collect? How have they implemented it at work?

In another book (yes, you know I’m a book nerd) about the history of Chick-Fil-A, the founder Truett Cathy talks about the company’s approach to hiring store Operators. He says that the company would rather restrain mustangs than kick mules, or he’d rather have to pull back on the reins of someone that is going too fast than try to push someone that is going too slow.

Back in 2009 when I helped to start the HRevolution movement, this “wandering” mentality is what drove us to do so. The event appeals to people that want something more than a “sit in the back of the room and play on your phone” type of conference. People come expecting to contribute, share, and explore ideas collaboratively. And for those that take advantage of it, the value is immense.

 

Test Big Picture Thinking

One of the other hallmarks of an entrepreneurial employee is being able to see the big picture. Instead of being aware only of the minute fraction of the business that the person touches day to day, the mindset of one of these individuals can see how the job affects people both up and down the line.

In the interview, the authors of IGNITE recommended offering someone a whiteboard to explain an idea or explore a complex process. They posit that the more creative individuals will be able to accomplish the task.

What I would also encourage focusing on is a bit of QBQ-like interactivity. If you’re unfamiliar, QBQ stands for the Question Behind the Question. QBQ is one of the required books new employees working at my favorite radio host’s company must read. The QBQ process is used to help get beyond the normal questions we see in the workplace:

  • Whose fault is this?
  • Why wasn’t this done correctly?
  • How long until things get better?

We want to get beyond those poisonous questions to some that are more engaging and solution-focused, like these:

  • What can I do to help?
  • How can I make sure this is done correctly?
  • What can I do to make things better?

In the interview, ask the person some questions around the QBQ mindset. Present them with a problem and then ask for some QBQ-like questions that show that they are able to see the big picture and can understand how to impact results positively.

Encourage Nonconforming Behaviors

I’ve been reading a lot about conformity and finding the right ways to encourage some creative rebellion among employees. One recent piece from Harvard Business Review lays out an interesting picture of the state of conformity at work:

Of course, not all conformity is bad. But to be successful and evolve, organizations need to strike a balance between adherence to the formal and informal rules that provide necessary structure and the freedom that helps employees do their best work. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of conformity.

In another recent survey I conducted, involving more than 1,000 employees in a variety of industries, less than 10% said they worked in companies that regularly encourage nonconformity. That’s not surprising: For decades the principles of scientific management have prevailed. Leaders have been overly focused on designing efficient processes and getting employees to follow them.

Now they need to think about when conformity hurts their business and allow — even promote — what I call constructive nonconformity: behavior that deviates from organizational norms, others’ actions, or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization.

To illustrate a behavior or choice that falls outside common expectations, let’s examine a story from Southwest Airlines. A few years ago a very junior employee was working as a gate agent when a flight was rerouted due to weather, stranding the passengers who were almost to their final destination. The common response was to apologize and hold out until the next day, hoping for better weather. Instead, she chartered three buses to take the people home, getting them to their destination in just a few hours.

Herb Kelleher, then-CEO of Southwest, brought her to the headquarters to meet with him. Instead of chastising her for not following protocol, Kelleher praised her quick thinking and dedication to doing the right thing by the customers. That kind of praise not only rewards the employee, but demonstrates to others what kinds of behaviors are expected as well.

Offer Idea Sharing/Voting

One of the simple ways to take advantage of what these employees have to offer is to let them contribute, share, and vote on ideas. I’ve talked in the past about the “Big Ideas Database” that we used at a former employer to allow employee-generated contributions to challenge the status quo and offer opportunities for innovation. We used a simple Sharepoint site to facilitate the process, approvals, and workflow, but there are also tools in the HR technology marketplace that can help to make this sort of process a reality. If you want to check one out, why not start with Tembostatus or Waggl. Anyone can contribute ideas, share, vote, comment, etc.

Whatever the method, the value is in leveraging employee ideas for innovation. Check out this video for an example of how this kind of employee-driven innovation can benefit an organization’s revenue, customer satisfaction, and more.

Plan to Use the Ideas You Get

While not every idea that comes in will be valuable, you need to truly make an effort to accept some of them. I’ve been faced with this at several of my previous employers. I was born with an eye for problem solving–I can’t turn that off. And I can think specifically of instances at two previous employers where I had heard a “no” one too many times and that facilitated my change of employment. The crazy part is that during the recruiting process, those companies recognized and appreciated those kinds of thoughts. They told me that they wanted suggestions, ideas, and contributions.

However, once I was “inside the fence” and employed with them, it was a different story. When I speak I often tell about the employer that failed just a few months after I left. One of the last conversations with my manager was a list of ideas about how we could fix the 40+% turnover problem that was draining our budget faster than we could survive, and the response was “get back to work processing those new hires and terminations.” Ouch.

As far as how many ideas you need to implement, that’s where it can be a bit fuzzy. I saw an article recently about a large telecommunications company that received more than 10,000 employee ideas and had implemented less than 100. I don’t have a benchmark to know if that’s good or bad, but for those other 9,900 ideas, you need to be sure that those people feel like their contribution mattered.

Treat Creatives Differently

We use a few terms to describe different types of employees under our charge:

  • High performers
  • High potentials
  • What about high innovators or high creatives? 

Whatever label we stick on them, we need to treat them differently from the rest of the employees. Yes, this scares the pants off most HR pros, because we’ve been taught to treat everyone the same. But it’s madness when you think about it. Equal treatment for unequal performance/productivity/contributions is a surefire path to mediocrity.

Consider this analogy of tire pressure equalization. A tire works because it captures air and builds pressure, allowing it to hold its shape and move a vehicle around (a high value activity).

Those creative people in your organization are the high pressure air inside that make the value possible. Treating all employees the same is like putting a hole in the tire. Eventually all the high pressure air leaks out (employee turnover), and low pressure leaks in (hiring for conformity, not creativity), until you have something that doesn’t offer value.

That’s how companies achieve mediocrity every day. If you’re interested in being a mediocre HR leader at a mediocre company with a mediocre track record, make sure you treat all employees the same, regardless of their contributions. Back to those companies that I worked for previously, that was why both of them will never be truly exceptional. All employees were treated the same by the company’s owners, which led the creative, valuable people to leave. Those that didn’t do extra work, look for ways to contribute beyond their job titles, and seek opportunities to grow the business? They stuck around. Ouch.

Take Baby Steps

As you begin this journey, take small steps and always stay just a bit uncomfortable. Knowing how to hire creative people is one thing. Knowing how to manage creative people is something else entirely. Look for ways to encourage creative, nonconforming ideas from your people at regular intervals. And don’t forget the seven strategies that can make it work for you:

  1. Prepare for creative tension
  2. Seek wanderers
  3. Test their big picture thinking
  4. Encourage some nonconformity
  5. Let people share and vote on ideas
  6. Don’t hire “idea” people if you don’t plan to use their ideas
  7. Don’t treat creatives just like everyone else

How does your organization encourage and support creative employees? What value do you see this population bringing to your business? 

A few weeks ago you probably caught my letter to my unborn child. This last week has been a wild ride as we added Berklee to the family, surprising about 95% of the people we know because she was NOT a boy. Melanie and the baby are doing great, and the other kids are overjoyed at having the baby at home.

Enjoy the picture below, and expect more HR content next week. For now I need to go get a little (or a lot of) sleep…

berklee-rose

I have done dozens of presentations in my professional life. But boy was I nervous about a recent one. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to deliver my first ever Ignite-style presentation.

I was sweating it, big time.

In short, you get five minutes to explore a topic. The kicker? Your 20 slides auto-advance every 15 seconds, leaving you without any control. Honestly, I’d rather have just one slide and an hour to talk about it than have no control over the 20 slides for a five-minute talk. In the end the session went very well–one in the string of nine other people delivering these types of presentations at the HR Technology Conference Ideas and Innovators session. I had fun, and the next time I have a chance to do an Ignite talk I’ll be less worried about it!

eubanks-gig-economy-presentation

Photo: Talking about the Gig Economy, On-Demand Talent, and More

My topic blended in some ways with others that talked about more fluid decisions in the workplace, but it was a look at something I think is going to shape future talent decisions for organizations everywhere. This is a sort of highlights reel of the presentation and a few of the key stats are listed below. I’d love to hear your thoughts after you read through! (Also, let me know what you think of the tool below that shows the story. It’s something new I’m using and if people like it I will create more of them to help explore complex topics.)

Email subscribers must click through to view the presentation below.

Presentation Highlights

  • Gigs are nothing new, but the idea of using them to get business tasks completed is.
  • Some of the interesting companies (not an exhaustive list) that are playing in the space of providing gig-economy-writeupon-demand workers include Toptal, Shiftgig, Wonolo, Upwork, and others.
  • There are more than 800,000 workers in the platform-based gig economy. That means they are working through an intermediary, not as a solo independent contractor. If that was a company, it would be the second largest in the US, twice the size of McDonald’s.
  • While the relative size of the labor sharing economy is not that large, it has grown rapidly and will continue to over time.
  • The interesting piece is that many people automatically assume these workers are doing gig work (W9) full time. In reality, many of these people are doing this work in addition to their full time (W2) job. But why?
  • One of my theories is that this disengagement epidemic could even be caused in some respects by employees that are using gig work to get the satisfaction, flexibility, variety, etc. that their day job just can’t offer.
  • One thing I see on the horizon is pressure on outdated government rules. Companies (and people) want the flexibility to make granular talent decisions about who, what, and where they work. The existing rules limit that freedom and flexibility, as evidenced by some of the Uber (and other services) lawsuits around independent contractor vs employee.
  • One of the neat ideas I want to see come to fruition is embedding on-demand workers into the employment processes. For instance, onboarding a consultant to teach them about your culture or offering training to a temp worker to improve their performance.

This is a topic I’m incredibly interested in, and I look forward to exploring it more in the coming months. What questions do you have about the gig economy and how it affects the workplace?

Originally posted on the Lighthouse Research blog.

I realized this weekend that I didn’t let you guys know about a free webinar I’ll be doing tomorrow with RecruitingBlogs. If you’re interested in joining me for the session you can sign up here

Talent mobility. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the practice of using internal talent to fill roles as well as creating new paths and opportunities for your staff. It has a whole host of impacts and benefits.

  • Recruiting: instead of immediately looking externally for talent, you consider your internal talent inventory to determine if you have someone you can move into the role.
  • Retention: by using internal staff for filling positions, you increase retention and drive satisfaction for career-minded employees (this used to be Millennials, but I’ve heard stories of all types of workers fitting this bill).
  • Learning and development: instead of putting someone in a class, you give them an experiential/social learning opportunity by plugging them into a new environment.

In the webinar I will be talking about some companies that have made talent mobility a priority, from Chipotle to Hootsuite and World Bank Group to Tata Consultancy Services. Each case study tells a slightly different story, and I’m excited to share those examples.

In addition, we’ll look at some different sources of research on the topic that allow us to dig deeply into why this talent process matters. The research I’m doing these days around gig workers and the talent economy (I’ll be sharing some info on this in my next post) points to the fact that people want more control over their own careers and development. With that in mind, giving them flexible opportunities to contribute, grow, and develop just makes sense if we want to not only engage them, but keep them long term.

If that sounds interesting, I’d love to have you join. I try to make my webinars fun and entertaining (lots of stories) while still giving you some actionable takeaways.

Body Movin’: Why Talent Mobility is King of Retention

I had put it off for as long as I could, and it was time to finally bite the bullet and get it done. I sent a message to my manager and told him that I was going to work from home the following day in order to knock a few things off my list. I knew others on the team did it occasionally, but it felt weird staying home instead of making the daily commute. And you know what? I really liked it. I actually got more done from home, accomplishing all of my key “to do” items and a few more. I was less stressed and felt satisfied for the first time in a while by the time I returned to the office the following day.

—–

I can still remember sitting in front of my computer that day all those years ago. I remember how I felt, what I was working on, and what the results were. I tell the story because it is a perfect example of what people are saying about how they get work done.

A Quick Primer on the ROWE

I realize that some of you might be newbies to the “ROWE” term, so let me break it down for you. The idea of a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) is fairly simple: you work when, where, and how you want to–as long as you get the job done. In other words, the place and method don’t really matter, but the results are more important than ever.

The point that ties in here is a core tenet of the ROWE movement: work is a thing you do, not a place you go.

If this sounds intriguing, I’ve written fairly extensively on the topic if you want to explore:

People Least Productive in the Office

The title for this post reflects the latest FlexJobs survey, which shows that just 7% of workers think they are most productive in the office. Ouch.

This is a reflection of the open office floor plan debate that has been going on for a few years now. People are just not able to focus, concentrate, and get things done when they are stacked on top of each other like cord wood. Is that actually a surprise to anyone?

The data actually says that this is a bigger problem than we realize, even if we just look at technology and the interruptions it can provide.

Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that the typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between interruptions, and it takes approximately 25 minutes to return to the original task after being interrupted. A further study found that those being interrupted make up to 20% more mistakes than those working in an uninterrupted environment. This makes me wonder what the cost of all this “multitasking” really is!

Know How Your Best Work is Done

Despite this somewhat gloomy outlook, it’s important to know how your best work gets done. Here’s my story.

The truth is that I’m an introvert, and my best work is done when I am in a quiet place where I can concentrate. I simply cannot work in an environment with a lot of noise or mental stimuli. In fact, in my day job I can go for eight hours straight without hearing anyone unless I have a meeting on the calendar. And that is fine with me, because it allows me to focus wholly on the task(s) at hand.

When I think back on my time working in a cubicle environment, I valued it in some ways and despised it in others. I really liked being connected to my staff and being incredibly accessible to them. On the flip side, it was really tough to have private conversations without scheduling a conference room or finding an empty space to connect. In addition, with my focus issues, I was never able to be fully productive since there was pretty much always an employee that wanted to ask a question, tell a story, or just be that chatty person that wandered around all day.

What each of you should do is think about how you work best, block out focused time, and try to minimize distractions that do not add value to your day. I learned a lot about this in the book Two Awesome Hours, which I referenced in a previous post.

Another book that quickly hooked me was Two Awesome Hours. The basic premise is that we were not meant to sit at a computer for eight plus hours a day working at a single repetitive task without breaks. That’s what robots are for. Josh Davis, PhD, says some people can get as much done in two good, productive hours as others can in an entire day. The concept has to do with a few different elements of work, but the part that has been most interesting for me is working on focused activities when I’m most “on.”

Good luck with managing distractions and being productive, my friends!

When I speak about HR strategy, one of the things that inevitably comes up is that it’s hard to plan ahead. Things change. The business changes. The objectives shift. It makes it difficult to pin down the right HR strategy to support the organizational goals.

And that’s okay. Death, taxes, and change are the things we can count on in this life. In the video below I tell a personal story that helps to illustrate the need to not only be prepared for change, but to actually expect it in some regard so that the molehills don’t become mountains.

(Email subscribers click through to view the video)

It’s quick and to the point, but I hope you get the idea. We can let changes break us down or we can use them to get smarter, faster, and better in our approach.

I’d love to hear your story! Tell me about a time (whether in HR or not) where you had a carefully crafted plan and things suddenly went awry. How did you cope? What were the results? I enjoy sharing stories with my audience both here and from the stage, because stories are powerful and connect us at a deeper level than a series of stats and data points.

 

Going way personal today. Take it or leave it, but I always write what moves me. Thanks!

Dear Peanut,

We are so very excited to meet you. I’ve been going back and forth between nervousness and excitement over the past few weeks, because I know that you’re going to make your appearance within the next few weeks.

Your sisters and brother are looking forward to meeting you, noticing every single baby that we have passed in the last few weeks with increasing interest. If history is any indicator, they are going to watch over you, support you, and help you as you grow. Just don’t let them pin the blame on you. I know from experience. :-)

One day you’ll read this with a smile. I don’t usually share my personal life with the rest of the world. It’s just not the way I do things, and I would be willing to bet that you are going to share some of those introverted tendencies. What’s funny is that I can jump on stage and talk about anything, but when it comes to small talk and meeting new people I am much less adept. I’ll try to teach you both as best I can so that you are able to overcome any challenge or take advantage of any opportunity.

You are incredibly special to us and (as far as we know) will complete the vision we have had for our family since we met almost fifteen years ago. Did you realize that your mom and I met in high school and instantly fell in love? Yes, we had no clue what “love” meant at the time, but it has grown with us steadily over the years, allowing us to grow our family along with it through a variety of means.

There are many things that I plan to teach you, whether you’re a boy or a girl.

  • I’ll teach you to make funny faces, even if the time isn’t the most appropriate. Laughter is medicine, and I happen to be an expert in it.
  • We’ll do handstands and cartwheels. I’ll show you how to walk on your hands and we’ll laugh together when we fall over.
  • I’ll show you how to cook. We’ll have adventures in the kitchen making things that sound crazy but just might be delicious.
  • We’ll explore the outdoors. I’ll teach you about all kinds of fun things like the sun and how it works. I’ll gladly answer all kinds of off-the-wall questions like why the sky is blue or why frogs don’t have tails. We’ll learn together.
  • I’ll teach you to fish, and how to sit quietly together even when there’s not a fish around for miles.
  • I’ll show you what it means to live by faith, not by sight. I’ll instruct and guide you so that you grow up to love others, not judge them. This is one of the most important things that I need the time to help you understand.

I’ll show you these and a thousand other things, because it’s my job. But it’s also my pleasure. My treat. My sheer joy. Your mom always laughs that I get along with kids so much because we’re on the same wavelength. Maybe it’s true, but I have yet to be crippled or hampered by that fact!

You’ll learn in time that I’m not perfect, but you’ll also see that love can overcome so many imperfections.

Little one, please know that you are loved, treasured, and desired. I can’t wait to meet you and we all look forward to this new adventure.

Love,

Daddy