HR Roundtable: The Challenge in Dealing With Creative People

The May HR Roundtable in Cincinnati took a significant turn to address something that is discussed in closed offices and hallways, but rarely in the open.

The topic was, “How do we deal with those creative people at work?”

The challenge in this topic is that creative people look for, and expect CHANGE when most companies what employees to just CONFORM. The small groups tackled the following questions to get everything started:

  1. Why do we limit creativity in people?
  2. Why do creative people struggle in organizations?
  3. How can we foster creativity?

The small groups jumped right in to share their thoughts and feelings about the questions. It was intriguing to hear everything being discussed.

Here’s a sample of what they had to share:

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Why do we limit creativity in people?

  • Fear — Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear that their ideas will cost the company exorbitant amounts of money. Fear of wasted time. You get the picture. We don’t seek to understand creative, we just categorize them into people who may bring too many variables to how things are done.
  • Creative people slow things down — Sweet ! So, new ideas and thoughts take away from productivity. (This brought an audible groan from the group). However, it’s how things are perceived. If a creative thought takes away from the pace and flow of what is perceived to be productive, it’s an obstacle.
  • If it’s not broken — Ah, yes. The great approach in organizations that since things are running well, why in the world would you change things? It’s more prevalent as a philosophy and mantra than you think. People think that change will bring about doom and gloom, so let things be.
  • Creativity causes more work — Not only is creativity unproductive and slows things down, it makes for more work. It’s no wonder that creativity should be stifled. This is a tough stereotype to address. The assumption is that ideas will add more vs. looking at ways of being more efficient. Bad assumption.
  • Creative employees don’t get along with others — This is an even bigger stereotype! The thought that people who approach things from different angles and loners that don’t play well with others is short sighted. on. Ask questions when you meet to clarify what each other want instead of assuming you already know.
  • We don’t see ourselves as creative — It’s fascinating that when all of us were children, EVERYONE was creative! Seriously, look at young kids. They don’t work within the boundaries of conformity until people keep narrowing their thoughts, actions and perspectives. It makes adults hesitant to think that they can be, or are, creative.

 Why do creative people struggle in organizations?

  • They don’t feel they’re heard — When your thoughts and ideas run contrary to company norms, you can feel isolated and in a personal silo. If there’s “no place” for contrary approaches, then people will shut down and be quiet. Internally they may be looking for ways to express themselves, but creative people will become hesitant as well if their input isn’t heard.
  • Companies aren’t open to creativity — This isn’t as uncommon as you may think. There are companies that are highlighted for innovation and creativity, but it’s usually a fringe example that is really over the top. When company’s see these as the example of a creative workplace, they tend to shy away because they don’t feel their culture is going to be like these companies.
  • The productivity puzzle — Employees who crank work out are often rewarded and recognized because they “get stuff done.” Creatives do produce, but it’s not comparable to the mainstream of production. So, creative people may limit their contributions in order to meet the production approach a company may value more.
  • We don’t seek to understand others — This is honestly a huge HR obstacle. The tendency is to make employees “fit” our culture and systems because there is the illusion that there will be less conflict and variability. When we don’t take time to meet people where they are, we dim the light of having them bring their entire self to work. This seems very counterintuitive when you look at it. Wouldn’t you want the best from everyone all the time?

How can we foster creativity?

  • Practice non-squelching — Let ideas get out there and have a life. They may not come to fruition, but stop the squelching of ideas immediately because they’re different. You can do this in a timely fashion. It doesn’t have to be slow. The more you allow this, the more ideas will start to be shared on a more consistent basis from all areas of your company.
  • Communicate creative “wins” — When a new idea takes hold and results support something new, celebrate! It’s a great opportunity to switch from a culture that measures what isn’t being done, to one that accentuates items that are new, creative and move the company in a different way. People love to celebrate and be recognized. This is really a simple approach that can be adopted right away.
  • Provide a process — Let employees know how and where to share their ideas. I wouldn’t recommend a formal program like a suggestion box. Those tend to be very biased and can also end up in informal negotiations with your workforce and you won’t even know it. If employees know they can go to their supervisor, to HR, or somebody you designate with creative ideas, then you have a shot. The key is that once the ideas are given through a process, then they should get full consideration and follow-up.
  • Allow and reward failures — Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’s more than just a wise, old saying. If people know they have the freedom to stretch and even fail without repercussions, then it will start to occur. The thought that every idea is instantly perfect and successful is a myth. However, companies feel that if you allow failure, you’re going to ruin them financially. You do need to watch how things move, but you’ll never grow unless failure is OK.
  • Give people parameters — This is true for all of your employees. If people know the boundaries they can thrive within, then they will be more full in their approach to their role and their contribution in the company. If you keep things very narrow, then you will experience those types of approaches and efforts.
  • Build relationships — This may seem odd, but we tend to stay away from each other in the workplace. We are so fearful of someone crossing a line, that we treat all employees at arm’s length. Effective leaders have wholesome relationships with their staff and across departments. HR needs to take the lead in this area and quit allowing people to be distant.
  • Use resources — There are tons of resources available in books, online, and in training. This can range from having people read and/or write blogs on creativity to practicing gamification in your organization. (That’s teaching people through games) Steve shared his fave resource on this, a book by Gordon MacKenzie entitled Orbiting the Giant Hairball. You should check it out.
  • Let it happen — Seems simple, but it’s harder than you think. You see we forget that when children grow up, they become our employees. It’s time to get the creative juices flowing in our organizations again. Innovation is challenging and exciting. Open up and see what happens !!

This Roundtable was riotous and lively! It was obvious that people really long to be creative in what they do in their companies. Here’s hoping that it has the spark to happen.

Steve Browne

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at sbrowne@larosas.com, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.