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This article was contributed by Marjorie Radlo-Zandi
Throughout the tech universe and life sciences, intelligent creatives are among the most sought-after professionals. Their titles range from UX/UI designer, software developer, head of creative, scientist, to web developer and designer, visual designer, augmented reality engineer, virtual reality designer, game designer, mobile designer and so on.
With rising demand for these types of skills and not enough supply of these key professionals, great leaders and founders need to know how to inspire and retain these vital members of your team.
Imagine a technology company with a fresh new series B funding round, a well-thought-out mission, leadership that works, and a game-changing product that could really change people’s lives. Pay is highly competitive at the top end of the scale, as are bonuses and stock options. Talented professionals would practically pay to work there because its reputation is built on the space it provides for creatives to shine. Yet one year in, the company was becoming a veritable revolving door.
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How does a company’s employee retention fall so quickly? What could’ve happened to create this discord?
Intending to augment company leadership, one of the advisors to the business used their network to bring in a new chief technology officer (CTO). But their vetting missed this person’s leadership style: excessive micromanaging with no tolerance for risk and experimentation.
The market for talent was robust with numerous opportunities, and one month into the new CTO’s tenure, key employees walked. Six months later, half the technical staff was gone and others soon followed.
This is a cautionary tale about guarding your company’s reputation like a precious jewel in the crown. If you want your company to be known as the place for creatives to flourish and do their best work — or to keep that reputation healthy, there are certain things that leadership must consider.
Challenge your creatives, then get out of the way
Even more important than compensation, give them the most challenging problems, then get out of their way. When you respect that your intelligent creative has an entirely different way of viewing the world, they’ll work above and beyond to meet the challenge. Let them leap over agility courses they create for themselves. Ensure the challenges and opportunities you provide come with clear goals that support their creativity.
Allow at least 20% of their time to create their own personal projects that benefit your organization. Some of Google’s significant advances happened through this approach. Suggest, don’t impose. Avoid micromanaging and leading with a heavy hand. Do all this, and you’ll reduce the likelihood your intelligent creatives take their talents elsewhere.
Deliver on the promise
Full of optimism to make a difference, creatives often join organizations that proclaim to be progressive, but in reality, require their workforce to follow a path that leaves no room for out-of-the-box thinking and contrarians. Creatives fail at conforming, and invariably will leave a constraining employer for more fertile pastures where they can thrive at another promising company, or build their own company.
Adapt your leadership style
Develop and deploy a leadership style that brings out the best. Foster skill development and encourage your creatives to grow. Stay open to their out-of-the-box thinking, as this is how you’ll foster the greatest innovations.
Don’t be authoritarian. If you restrain your intelligent creatives with such career-killers as repetitive tasks and bureaucracy, they’ll feel stifled, unhappy and you’ll risk losing them and be stuck cleaning up the mess they created on their way out the door.
If you adopt a coaching leadership style, your creative’s talents will bloom.
Show your appreciation
Ensure your creative knows you appreciate their strengths and where they shine. Understand what inspires them so that both of you can make the most of the talents they bring to your organization. Give them the admiration and respect they deserve, including compensation, and in return, they’ll apply their most inventive self to their work, along with a loyalty that’ll endure.
Give intelligent creatives space and respect
While creatives want your leadership, I can say from personal experience they don’t need much direction. They know what to do; give them the autonomy to do it. Their morale will skyrocket because you’re giving them the freedom and space to be great. In return, they’ll deliver in spades.
Even though creatives value challenges and the space to thrive more than a paycheck, that isn’t a license to undercompensate. Respect your creative’s market value by providing a robust compensation package, including salary, bonus, stock options or restricted stock units that vest over time, and a top-tier medical benefit.
If you lose a creative, expect to pay much more for their replacement — it’ll cost in lost time and productivity because the new person lacks the institutional knowledge to help them get up to speed. You may not be able to hire right away because even with a stellar reputation as the go-to company for creatives, your firm still competes for these individuals who get snapped up for enticing positions at other promising organizations.
Be intentional and purposeful about inspiring and retaining your intelligent creatives. When you understand their special traits and accept they operate on a unique wavelength of their making, their creativity could be the spark that catapults your company’s product or service into that rarest of species — a unicorn.
Marjorie Radlo-Zandi is a board member, advisor and mentor to founders on building and scaling their firms, provides angel funds to promising startups, invests for impact, consults on business growth and encourages a more diverse and inclusive startup ecosystem.
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