Monday, March 21, 2011

Trust That The Team Will Do The Right Thing

It is a hard thing to be involved but not demand the steps to an end result. Many times a creative manager has the hard task of showing the path – by not forcing the people on their team to not “walk a certain way, think a certain way...” It requires that a clear, defined set of requirements and end result be given to a creative organization – BUT you cannot force a pre-determined end result. I have seen this time and time again. In twenty years of working with and within creative organizations I have seen a brilliant creative individual made the head of a group of creative types. The first mistake is the person thinks that now everyone on their team is now to act, be, think and generate results totally within their style and approach. They want to  lead a group of mini-me’s

I once took over the management of a design and production group. 30 creative souls trapped in design and management purgatory. The work was, OK, but it was dated and dry. So I met one on one with every person on the team. About 10% of the team was “happy just having a job” – and their work was the minimum of output and creativity. The remaining 90% said over and over again, “they didn’t feel trusted, that their ideas never were even discussed let alone taken into account.” In the end I found that everyone from the clerks, the creative directors, the artists, the photographers – everyone BUT the leader felt trapped.

When I sat down with the head of the group to review my findings, my main goal was to get him to trust his people. When the conversations began, he became very defensive. He said, over and over again, that he knew what they needed to do. They should just keep their mouths shut and do exactly as he says.

His proof was the fact that the owner of the business sent him a letter every year saying, “you did another outstanding job.” What he did realize was, the owner wasn’t the customer. The people receiving the out put of the team were the client, and sales were down 60%. After a 5-hour conversation, he realized that he needed to let his people try new things and become part of the process or they would all lose their jobs.

So over the next 16 weeks I talked with him daily, to see how it was going. I walked the floor, sat with the creative team and listened. It took a constant, “remember trust them, let them learn from doing not yelling” – and results began to come to the surface. The designs were fresh, the costs were reduced by 40% via new ideas and approaches and most importantly the people on the team began to buy in to what they were doing. Work became an expression of their creativity. The end result was a change from the past, and instead of a form letter from a the CEO there were increased sales and client love letters, customer service was hearing from the end users “I love the design, it’s easier to use, more of what I like…”

Was the effort greater than just demanding a path?  Yes. Was the result marketably different? Yes and no. Were the people involved more committed? A screaming yes (even the slugs were trying harder). Remember, trust that the creative team will do the best they can – even if it doesn’t look just like you want it.

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