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? 

It seems that we can’t turn around today without having a conversation that touches on employee engagement. Yet despite all the attention, it hasn’t really moved the needle. In one graphic (click through the link below to explore), pulled from Google Trends, you can see the level of interest in employee engagement for over ten years.

The interest level peaked in 2016, and if the trend continues, it will expand beyond its current levels by the end of the year. But to what end? Gallup’s regular research into engagement points out a fairly dismal picture, and companies are trying to improve this measure to no avail.

I’m going to offer two answers to this problem that not only illuminate the issue, but give you some options to consider as you try to combat the pervasive issue of disengaged employees.

  1. Engagement is not a program. It’s a long-term, intentional set of practices.
  2. Engagement is not an outcome. It may lead to outcomes, but it shouldn’t be the end goal in itself.

Click here to read the rest of the article on the PeopleStrategy blog

Last week I had the chance to speak with a local HR leader. She was lamenting her company’s hideously awful HR module that was an add-on to the company accounting software. The firm paid plenty of money for the module, but it is ineffective, inefficient, and virtually useless. It looks like it was coded/developed in 1993, if that tells you anything. There are no reporting, searching, or other core capabilities that would make the system a valuable tool to help improve the HR team’s service delivery. So I told her to stick with Excel for a while longer until they can convince the CEO that they need real technology. A while back I wrote about a very similar topic: how consumer demands for technology are shaping what we and our employees want in our workplace technology.

Consumer Trends and HR Technology

When we asked global participants in our recent Employment Value Proposition survey whether their HR technology makes life easier by providing access to relevant information to help employees manage their career, the response was a dismal 13%. About one in 10 companies believes HR technology is truly making life easier for employees, and that is a problem, because employees have high expectations for the technology they use.

hcm technologyWhen it comes down to technology selection, there are a wide variety of inputs that help to drive the decision. Some of them are very specific, revolving around cultural or business-oriented requirements. Others are larger in scope, affecting virtually every company that is evaluating technology. The two global trends that are having the greatest impact on technology selection today are consumer-driven demands and personalized recommendations.

Consumer-Driven Technology Demands

The release of the first iPhone in 2007 was a leap forward in delivering a delightful user experience. Since then we’ve seen an increased number of companies focusing on usability as a key driver of selection decisions. The apps, video content, and social capabilities of the smartphone era have enabled users to be more productive. These tools enable users to achieve more in less time, helping them to fully realize the value of technology like never before.

And now those expectations extend to workplace technology as well. Your employees are accustomed to personal computing experiences that are intuitive, engaging, and user-friendly. They now expect their work environment to provide technology of the same quality and fidelity, whether mobile or desktop.

Personalized Recommendations

Users have become ac­customed to visiting Amazon and other online retailers for their shopping needs, and one thing these stores do very well is offering personalized recommendations based on browsing history, previous purchases, and other online activity. Bought a purse? They will offer you a similar one, or a complemen­tary item. Purchased a food item? The site can help give you recommendations based on what other similar us­ers liked.

This concept applies to talent technology in the form of guided experiences. Employees appreciate hav­ing a personalized experience with technology without it feeling too scripted or forced. The benefit here for business leaders is less time spent walking users through the software or tailoring it to each individual’s needs. It’s a win-win for both parties and helps to keep users engaged.

The Technology Outlook

When we look at satisfaction ratings for technology, whether learning, talent, or HR, we see a definite trend. Companies are not particularly happy with their existing technology. Just 19% of organizations say they are very satisfied with the quality of their overall technology environment, according to the 2015 Brandon Hall Group EVP study.

It’s time to look at your technology options not just as a means to an end, but as a method for engaging your workforce through multiple touchpoints on a regular basis. From the applicant tracking system, onboarding tools, and performance management platform to something as mundane as an address change, you have the opportunity to create a great experience for your employees with your technology.

Consider your existing HCM technology. Would you say it provides an engaging experience for employees? Why or why not?

The most engaged… are first in line.

mailchimpRecently I read a blog post about email marketing and delivery, and that line struck me. Stick with me, because I think there’s an intriguing question it brings up.

People that run companies and blogs often use delivery services to communicate with customers and readers. I use a tool called MailChimp and have for several years. I have a little bit (okay, a lot!) of a geeky side, so I follow their blog to stay up to date on best practices for email marketing, product updates, etc. A short while back they posted an interesting piece describing how they send emails to large groups quickly. Here’s a snippet:

Our sending infrastructure is designed to turn large campaigns into smaller “payloads” to get them out the door much faster. When you click Send in the Campaign Builder, you’re actually telling MailChimp to start biting off parts of your campaign. As each payload is created, it’s immediately routed to our Mail Transfer Agents (MTAs) and queued for delivery. We organize this based on subscriber member ratings, so the most engaged subscribers in your campaign are first in line.

In email marketing speak, engaged subscribers are those that open, read, and click through the emails. Over time they are ranked based on how often they complete those tasks from highly engaged to not-so-much.

That made me wonder–what would happen if we could tweak our HR service delivery to prioritize those who are most engaged? For instance, if two requests come in for support and both will take an hour to complete, we would determine which employee was most engaged and handle their request first.

What if…?

On one hand, it seems like that approach could have a detrimental effect on those already on the cusp of disengagement. But should we be focusing our efforts on those individuals? I mean, engaged staff are pretty valuable to the organization…

Jim Harter Ph.D., a chief scientist at Gallup Research explained what engaged employees do differently in an email interview: “Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant. They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”

Harter, who has co-authored over 1,000 articles on the topic as well as two bestsellers, also says engaged employees “continuously recreate jobs so that each person has a chance to do what they do best.” Engaged employees “listen to the opinions of people close to the action (close to actual safety issues and quality or defect issues), and help people see the connection between their everyday work and the larger purpose or mission of the organization.” When engaged employee do this they create a virtuous circle where communication and collaboration nurture engagement and vice versa.

Considering the benefits, why do companies still struggle to foster engagement? Harter writes, “Many organizations measure either the wrong things, or too many things, or don’t make the data intuitively actionable. Many don’t make engagement a part of their overall strategy, or clarify why employee engagement is important, or provide quality education to help managers know what to do with the results, and in what order.” Source

On the other hand, just like we’ve learned over time that focusing on strengths can deliver more value than focusing on weaknesses, maybe we should be focusing on making sure those engaged employees get the best service that the HR team has to offer. If we consider it logically:

  1. It helps to maintain or improve engagement levels
  2. It helps to prevent a slide toward disengagement
  3. It might help to drive additional results from those individuals

Another similar example of this is handling support requests from free and paid users of a product. Often times when companies use the “freemium” model and have a free version of their tools, the paid users have priority when it comes to getting support/help from the provider.

What are your thoughts? Would it make sense to handle our requests from employees based on the individual’s engagement level? What would be potential benefits or pitfalls? 

I talked previously about my jump to Republic Wireless. I love the phone and the service, but I also love following the company’s blog and learning more about who’s behind all of that greatness. Recently they shared a very unique idea that I wanted to explore today.

At Republic, we aren’t actually corporate robots stored in closets at the end of the work day (although I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords). We’re people with talents, hobbies, and interests outside of our work providing value for our members through our phones and service. If you happen to wander the halls of Republic HQ in Raleigh, North Carolina, you’ll see dozens of framed photos of employees that answer the question: What Do You Love? (Source)

Continue reading

Employee ownership is something I have been researching lately. Not “actual” ownership, but a sense of it. What effect would that have on someone’s attitude and engagement? How could you encourage ownership without turning to complex, expensive solutions? Check out the video below for some ideas on how to create a sense of employee ownership in your organization.

Subscribers may have to click through to view.

Whew! There are so many great resources I’d like to share today. Let’s jump right in.

Free employee engagement webinar

These events by Workforce.com are fantastic. They have multiple sessions throughout the day and you can even get HRCI recert credits for some of the sessions. Definitely worth checking out!

Make your age an afterthought in your career

Careers are built on ability, not on age. (best quote ever!)

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

  • What excites you? Why do you get up in the morning? If time and money were no object and you had no pressing responsibilities, how would you like to spend your days?
  • What bothers you? What problem would you like to fix? There are all kinds of problems in the world… which one(s) are you most troubled by?

If A’s hire B’s and B’s hire C’s, will A’s collect a pension?

The B\’s need to hire A\’s, and the A\’s need to hire A+\’s. Even old, wasting companies can thrive again if the leaders can just recognized that if they are better than their predecessors, isn\’t it likely that those following should be better? Then hire to get them in, and not just turn the keys over to your workplace sons and daughters, hand-picked because they remind you of you at that age…

The 3 most important HR metrics

First, I would say that the metrics that will make my top 3 list have to be those that demonstrate they measure impact and/or results for the organization. So, you won’t see metrics like these on my top 3 list…

Know of some other neat/helpful resources? Feel free to share in the comments below!