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10 Ways to Manage Creative Personalities: Getting the Most From Your Project Team

written by: Bart Gerardi • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2013

Managing creatives on your project is a challenging experience. If done correctly, you can get a lot of value, and a lot of gain out of having these types of people on your team. If done poorly, they can derail your project, or actually detract value just by being around.

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    10 Tips for Managing Creatives


    Virtually everyone is capable of being creative, but there are certain tips you should know for managing people who feel that they are creative, right-brain type people.

    Here are some tips for how to get the most out of the creative types on your project.

    Tip #1: Create the right environment. If you can, you need to create the kind of space that helps to foster the creative process. Depending on your team, this can mean throwing them all together, bullpen-style, or it can mean separating them all, and allowing them to work on their own. Perhaps you need a wacky space, with toys and beanbag chairs, or maybe you need an area with lots of whiteboards and other ways to brainstorm. Each group is different, you should pay close attention to how your people get work done, and strive to create the space that will get the most out of them.

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    Set Boundaries

    Tip #2: Give them some boundaries. Sometimes, creative people can go too far “off-script" to produce anything useful. It’s important that you give them some guide rails, give them some boundaries, around what they are trying to achieve. This includes both what they need to produce, and when they need to produce it. Keep an eye on them, and let them know when they are running out of time, or when what they have is good enough to suit the needs of the project.

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    Give Them Freedom

    Tip #3: Let them roam. While it is important to let your project members know what is expected, and when they are expected to deliver, it’s also important to give them some space to float. The creative process almost never works well under pressure or stress. Give them time to think, time to get stuff wrong, and time to just let the creative juices flow. Without this, you are almost certain to be disappointed with that they are doing their job, and let them do their job.

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    Operate the Business

    Tip #4: Remind them how you get paid. It’s possible that if you do nothing, your creatives will fail at some of the most basic functions of your business. This includes time reporting, documentation, responding to customer requests, and the like. This kind of work is usually distasteful to creatives – until they remember that this is how their bills get paid. You, as project manager, have a responsibility to make sure that your professionals are acting professional, and doing the minimum requirements of their job, no matter how mundane it is.

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    Tip #5: Let them go. Yes, filling out timecards is important, and yes, the proper paperwork needs to be filed, and the client must feel like they are important. But, you also must trust that they are professionals, and will do the things that they must do, and not have to fill out forms in triplicate just because you think they should. Sometimes, shining a spotlight on creative work will stifle it, and will prevent your team from doing their best work. So trust that they are doing their job, and let them do their job.

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    Tips for Managing Creatives, cont.

    Tip #6: Make sure they are working on the right problem. Little things can annoy creatives. The wrong color, or the wrong word, can set them off for days, weeks, or more. But sometimes, this isn’t what your client cares about. The client likes their ghastly shade of purple, or thinks their cutesy tagline is good. No amount of convincing will change their minds, and therefore, no amount of work done in that area is worth anything. Make sure that your creatives are actually working on the problem at hand, and not whatever they feel like improving.

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    Compliment Good Work

    Tip #7: Compliment your creatives. Feels silly to say, but since creative work has no objective criteria for right or wrong, it can be hard for them to know if they are doing well. This doesn’t mean that you should treat them like a kindergartener, and put all their work on your fridge, but it does mean that if they do a job well, that you need to praise them for it. In fact, unlike other people who know if they’ve done a job correctly, your creatives need to hear it directly from you. Without direct praise, they have no real understanding of how they are doing.

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    Be Attentive

    Tip #8: Listen. Creative people have a strong desire to provide input. This can mean input to the client, to the project, to the process, or all of the above. Creatives are no different than other employees, they need to feel like their ideas are being heard, that their issues are at least getting raised to someone. You need to be that person, and ensure that whatever is bugging them come out. Doing this will allow them to be more engaged in the actual problem you are trying to solve.

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    Same Team

    Tip #9: Creatives are team members, too. It’s easy to fall in the habit of not inviting your creative employees to project team meetings, or not sending them your status reports. This is a bad idea. Even though they will profess to not want it, or not care, they actually do. Your creative will do much better if they feel like they are a part of the team, that what they do is advancing the needs of the client, and that they are providing value. The best way to do this is to keep them as close to the team as anyone else. Even if they say they don’t want to know, don’t believe them. Keeping them informed is the least you can do.

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    Flexibility is Key

    Tip #10: Be flexible with your creative employees. You need to strike the balance between managing creatives and letting them work on their own terms. Creatives are well known to have nothing of value for weeks on end, only to provide brilliance all in one day. Let them be responsible for their own deliverables and their own results. Asking them questions like “what percent complete are you with that new design?" is likely to be met with derision. You need to trust that they are working, even if they don’t have any work product to show for it.

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    Managing Creatives

    If done properly, managing creative types can be a very rewarding experience. They will understand what the client needs, what you need, and will figure out how to be wacky within that framework. You need to strike the balance between what must be done, and how they should be acting in order to get the most out of them. Sometimes, this means letting them do what they want. Other times, this means holding them by the shoulders, and pointing them in the right direction. A good project manager can figure out the balance between the two, and deliver huge value to the project.

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