Fostering Employee Creativity
Insurance Experts' Forum, September 28, 2010
A company's most important assets include raw materials, technology and political influence. But most important of all is creative capital. Simply stated, it’s a group of creative thinkers whose ideas can be turned into valuable products and services. Creative employees bring new technologies, develop new industries and power economic growth. Professionals whose primary responsibilities include innovating, designing and problem solving—the “creative class”—make up one-third of the U.S. workforce, and take home nearly half of all wages and salaries.
If you want your company to succeed, these are the people you entrust it to. The question becomes how to manage these people for maximum creativity. How do you increase efficiency, improve quality and raise productivity, while accommodating the complex and chaotic nature of the creative process? Management guru Peter Drucker identified the role of knowledge workers and, long before the dot-com era, warned of the dangers of trying to "bribe" them with stock options and other financial incentives. Research shows that creative people are motivated from within and respond much better to intrinsic rewards than to extrinsic ones.
Creative people work for the love of a challenge. They crave the feeling of accomplishment that comes from cracking a riddle—technological, artistic, social or logistical. They want to do good work. Though all people dislike bureaucratic red tape, creative people view it not just as a hassle, but as the enemy of good work. An Information Week survey of tens of thousands of IT workers confirms that theory: on-the-job challenge ranks well above salary and other financial incentives as the key source of motivation.
Companies that figure out how to manage for creativity will have a crucial advantage in the ever-increasing competition for talent. Leverage the motivation of creative workers by stimulating their minds and minimizing hassles. Eliminate the barriers between managers and workers by ensuring that your managers are creative people, too. And finally, tap into the creative talents of your customers. If you would like to know a few of the things companies are doing to keep their creative people motivated, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Wilkes is EVP of The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.
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