Managing creative professionals within a corporation is a unique challenge and an art. As a creative leader you must guide your creative team members within the company's one-size-fits-all HR and management policies; salary grades; and compensation guidelines. You will need to find an effective balance within the boundaries of corporate policy while giving your team "artistic license" within the corporate structure.

It is difficult to find managers with the know-how to effectively guide, direct, motivate and communicate to creative teams. Similarly, it requires a special talent to keep creative people energized while they cope with the pressures of being creative on-demand, meeting deadlines and creating communication products that help your company achieve its business goals.

To successfully manage the right-brained person, first, accept the fact that creative people are "different." Second, acknowledge that creative people have a different way of working. And, third, understand what motivates (or demotivates) them.

Creative People are "Different"

Creative people are often viewed as dreamers who can easily get caught up in their own worlds. They are generally highly intelligent, deep thinkers who use their emotions, rather than logic to make decisions. Creative people:

  • Are complex and often behave in contradictory ways. They are generally constructively discontented. Understand that what may look like play to you may actually be the way an individual processes information.
  • Are emotionally involved, intensely-absorbed and devote enormous amounts of energy to their work. Don't judge their creative output on a day-to-day basis. Some days are simply more productive than others.
  • Are driven by exciting work more than a paycheck. They look for interesting, challenging and stimulating creative projects. Remember that creative people are highly intelligent and their currency is solving complex communication problems.
  • Are independent thinkers who use their entire arsenal of problem-solving skills and intellect to translate complex ideas into practical business solutions. Understand that everyone's creative thought process is different.

Creative People Have a Different Way of Working

Creative work such as writing and design requires periods of uninterrupted focus and concentration. Creative people often have a special place they go to in order to focus on creative work away from the endless stream of emails, phone calls, instant messages and other distractions that interferes with their concentration. In addition, creative people:

  • Cannot choose when or where they create. They often keep odd hours because ideas come to them outside of standard business hours. Creativity comes in spurts and is rarely continuous. So, watch for burnout and prevent it before it happens.
  • Are prone to spending exorbitant amounts of time brainstorming, analyzing and filtering information. So, establish and monitor deadlines to help them with their time management. Help them learn that sometimes a "B+" is good enough.
  • Get their inspiration at unusual times, in unusual places and from unusual sources. So, allow them as much flexibility as possible.

What Motivates (or Demotivates) Right-Brained People?

Traditional management tactics like "wearing your stripes" to exercise your authority or to command their respect will be a turn off to creatives. And, using the "stick-and-carrot" method of motivation will usually backfire. Rather, creative leaders need to create an atmosphere that encourages experimentation and stimulates creativity within loose boundaries. In addition, creative people:

  • Dislike being policed. They are happiest and most productive when they are given autonomy and little or no supervision. Coach, but don't micromanage.
  • Have an aversion to routine mundane tasks and repetitive type work. They loathe paperwork or busy work. If possible, assign administrative staff to handle day-to-day functions.
  • Work best in an atmosphere of freedom and flexibility. Allow them to work remotely and offer them flex time or comp time whenever possible--within reason.
  • Are influenced by their physical surroundings. The "corporate cubical" is counter-productive to the collaborative creative process. The best work space is an open design of work "zones" with a common space to allow for collaborative synergy. If possible, enable them to design their workspace.
  • Are motivated by the interest, satisfaction and challenge of the work, as well as, stimulating co-workers and managers. Work with your clients to identify projects that are especially creative that will make a positive difference/impact for the corporation.

Successful Managers of Creative People

Respect individual differences and embrace constructive nonconformity, individuality and diversity. They understand that creative people have different values and currency. Tailor motivation to the needs of the individual.

Understand and live the creative process through professional hands-on knowledge and expertise. They know how to get the best out of creative people within the process. Seek to understand the nature of creativity.

Boost self-confidence and provide inspiration to their creative staff in the form of support and encouragement of their ideas. Fuel creative energy of the team instead of trying to stop or control it.

Take calculated risks, have managerial courage and aren't afraid of making mistakes and trying different things. As managers, they push the envelope of corporate boundaries to find innovative ways to inspire and foster creativity within their teams. Don't accept status quo as an option.

Have all-inclusive organizations and aren't looking for "yes men." They involve their staff in planning department policy and decision-making. They build and foster an environment and culture that encourages openness and collaboration: they want to hear and they respect the ideas, alternatives and approaches of others. Consider implementing a quarterly incentive program that recognizes the quality and innovation efforts of your team members.

Know how to communicate with creative people and understand their language. The right-brained person communicates differently than left-brained business people. The creative person often uses the essence of words versus their exact meaning. Coach them how to communicate clearly and effectively and translate their thoughts into business/corporate-speak.

Give credit and recognition. Creative people usually need constant stroking. They need to know and hear that the work they created has value to you as their leader. They need professional, management and peer recognition of their efforts and achievements. Consider submitting their work (writing, print and Web/interactive design) into competitive industry award competitions.

Managing creative professionals within corporate boundaries is challenging as well as rewarding. And, if you are able to effectively motivate and channel their creative energy toward your company's business goals, you and your creative team will achieve outstanding results.