Motivation can be an elusive thing considering we work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, different levels of education, various family situations, numerous hobbies and very, very different perspectives on how to reach professional and personal goals.
How does a leader go about motivating their creative teams? Is it all about extrinsic or intrinsic motivation? Is it a combination of both? How will you make your team productive and efficient and satisfied with their work? What is it that creatives really want in regards to being engaged? Is it recognition? Accolades? Design awards? Yes, these things are terrific and certainly do not hurt, but interesting enough, creatives thrive on meaningful process; being part of a team, a real contributor to the big picture; not a cog in a wheel who can "Make That Headline Bigger." Design has always been about process and the journey to find the "right" solution. So it is not surprising that the people who work in this field respond and thrive to this motivating factor.
As a leader, begin by creating an environment where everyone is inspired to perform at their highest level. Start by taking a look at projects, problems and processes through the eyes and perspective of individual team members. Everyone operates from their own "truth," and if you develop an understanding where people are coming from, you will have a starting point for dialogue that will be more beneficial for both of you. This could be as simple as asking "Tell me your point of view, I am really interested in your perspective on this new software platform we are using."
Communicate with your team in an informal way. Having controlling demands can actually block the kind of responses you are looking for. Communicate ideas in need-supporting ways, emphasize what you are doing will impact everyone on the team and all of OUR goals. A situation might be: "This new branding style guide is really going to take some time to get used to, but it will really facilitate all future projects and make our team much more efficient in the long run and eliminate all the tedious tasks we have had to do."
Encourage team members to make their own choices and engage them actively throughout a project. No one enjoys being told what to do... especially creatives. In fact, be overly directive at your own peril. Although there will always be a need for structure and guidelines, let team members offer opinions; encourage them to make suggestions when a project is stalling or not following the usual design standards of your group. Get team members involved early and use their experience to help refine troublesome processes such as: "This project is really taking a long time to get through our legal department, do you have any suggestions on how to improve the workflow?" Remember, the people actually closest to doing a task often have the best ideas for improving those tasks.
This approach to creating an engaging and motivating environment might be new to you and your team, so it will take time to flourish and grow. And let's face it, no one wants to take all these steps on EVERY single project FOREVER. The point of creating this environment is to build trust among one another and gain a deeper understanding of everyone's strengths and aspirations; so as a leader you can make better decisions when assigning work and building teams. Below are some quick references to get you moving in the right direction.
Undermining Internal Motivation (NO!)
Tangible rewards may give a brief boost, but motivation drops after the reward is given; and will probably undermine something that employees already enjoys doing; leaving you with substandard work.
Creating competitions or evaluations can have the same effect as rewards. Creatives usually do not respond well to competitions; creating great work is their ultimate goal...even if it is only a modest poster for a tradeshow.
Threats of punishment will wipe away all internal motivation leaving your employees responding in fear. What kind of work do you think this will produce? Nothing you will be proud of and definitely not something team members would show to their colleagues with pride.
Enhancing Internal Motivation (Yes!)
Show your employees respect. These are professionals just like you who decided to pursue a career that has meaning to them, just like you. They did not decide to develop their careers as a creative to make "you" shine. Remember this and treat them as colleagues, not a pair of hands.
Acknowledge their perspective and LISTEN. We all learn more by listening. Like I have said in previous posts, I do not know everything, you do not know everything, and our team members do not know everything. Imagine how successful we can all be by incorporating the expertise of others.
Provide your team members with choice. Give them some autonomy, ownership and pride in what they do. Keep this in mind and you will get back 3-fold in creativity and productivity than if you micromanaged every little thing on everyone's drawing board (or tablet).
Show appreciation and give positive feedback and critiques. Connect personally with what YOU do. Throughout this process, you will not get exactly what you are looking for every time, but you will increase productivity on each and every project. Through iterations and practice working with one another, workflow will become seamless as you and your team learn to trust one another and produce work in which everyone can be fulfilled--both intrinsically and extrinsically.
And last but not least, praise people's effort and tenacity, not talent. As one of my favorite creative writers said:
"Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work." - Stephen King
Linda Daniels has been deeply engaged in the creative industry for over twenty years. As an Instructional Design and Assessment Specialist, she is responsible for the strategic direction, management, development and design of assessment and training processes for The BOSS Group. This includes serving as a thought leader for industry best practices, developing ongoing F2F and web-based training programs, and growing multidisciplinary partner networks.
Her talent and experience as a design thinker is apparent, as it is reflected in her ability to lead, educate and motivate both traditional and interactive teams. Today, Linda continues to stay at the crest of innovation, while working with industry top thinkers, educating students and connecting with people.