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Managing Creative EmployeesCreative employees, and the innovation they foster, are the lifeblood of many organizations. But it’s not easy to manage creative types, especially when they happen to also be difficult types. Creative employees need the space and freedom required for experimentation and risk-taking, but at the same time, they need to be gently encouraged not to get too attached to their work or to take criticism too harshly. Creative employees need to be surrounded by the right kind of people — teammates who will support their ideas, but who can also help them pay attention to the mundane details. Make sure your creative employees feel that they’re doing interesting work, and don’t pressure them to conform.

1. Give Creative Employees Freedom

Creativity and innovation require risk-taking, experimentation, and sometimes, failure. Get the most out of your creative employees by giving them the freedom to fail once in a while. Sure, allowing your creative employees to fail sometimes will cost the company money. Don’t worry about it. You can find much better ways to cut costs. In the end, the value of your creative employees’ innovations will far outstrip the costs of their setbacks.

2. Don’t Let Them Get Too Attached to Their Work

Even though your creative employees will be creating for the sake of your business’s bottom line and not for the sake of art or their own personal fulfillment, you’re still going to find that they care about their projects and get emotionally invested in the outcomes. That’s a good thing; that passion is what makes creative employees worth their salaries. But for the sake of workplace harmony, productivity, efficiency, and the collective mental health of your creative people, it’s a good idea to gently discourage them from getting too attached to their projects or the outcome of their work.

You can encourage a culture of detachment by putting your creative employees together to work in teams, so that no one person is responsible for the outcome of the project. If you only have one or two creative employees, that’s okay; you can team them up with less creative employees who are nevertheless open to entertaining even the wackiest of the creative ideas. When an idea is rejected or needs revisions, present it as a problem that the whole team can solve together, to protect individuals from feeling criticized. Encourage creative teams to push through concepts quickly; creative employees are less likely to become deeply invested in a piece of work that they spent only a day or two working on.

Managing Creative Employees3. Surround Them with the Right People

Too many creative people working together can be a recipe for disaster, especially if one or more of them are of the “difficult” subcategory of creative types. However, you don’t want to team your creative employees with teammates who are too staid and conventional to support the more creative employees’ ideas. Research shows that teams made up of people from diverse backgrounds foster creativity, as long as the team members are open to taking one another’s perspectives. So surround your creative employees with others who may be less creative and innovative themselves, but who are willing to support the creative employees’ ideas and collaborate with them to improve upon those ideas.

These less creative team members can also help the team handle the less interesting, more mundane tasks that may bore many creative types. They can, for example, make sure that proper procedures are followed, templates and formats are respected, and details are attended to.

4. Keep Them Interested

Of course, you need to pay your creative employees a decent salary and offer them competitive benefits, just as you would any other employee. But creative types aren’t just motivated by external rewards like money; they do the work they do because they enjoy the process of creation itself. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that the work you give them is meaningful and inspiring. Don’t give your creative employees busy work. They’ll get bored and may start to think that another organization might appreciate them more.

5. Don’t Pressure Them to Conform

While a certain amount of conformity is necessary in most corporate settings, creative types need flexibility at work in order to come up with the great ideas you’re paying them for. Try to give your creative employees a little more freedom to seek the novelty they crave. Offer them flex scheduling or let them telecommute. If you can’t do that, at least make sure that you don’t micromanage their tasks; give them an idea of where you’d like them to arrive, and then let them figure out on their own how to get there.

Your creative employees may be among your most valuable, since they’re capable of fostering the innovation that could put your organization at the head of your industry. Care for your creative employees properly, and give them the environment they need to put their creative skills to good use. When you see the great ideas your creative employees come up with, you’ll be glad you did.

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