When you can harvest the bounty of original personalities you often have something special indeed, particularly in an executive sales company like my own firm, Corporate Rain International. Yes, original people are often arrogant, blunt, erratic, and moody. But they are oh so wonderful. They offer an extraordinary value to the employer who can stomach them. For myself, I can not only stomach them, I truly swim in the joy of their company. I am enlivened by their intuition, their humor, their integrity, and, frequently, by their love.
Harking back to my experience with Tracy Goss’ Executive Reinvention Program last month (“Overcoming Success and Transformational Entrepreneurship”), I think her seminar was seeking to imbue some of this originality and passion into very accomplished, but safe, corporate executives and managers, thereby creating transformational and impassioned corporate leaders who have the spirited orneriness and originality of the entrepreneur.
The big problem with hiring creative, independent folks is managing them. I have a whole company of these folks. People often ask me how I can manage them as a boss. Well, the short answer is I basically don’t manage them. I coax them, I spoil them, I admire them, I love them. I let them fail and grow—and mostly succeed. My risk is leavened by the fact that I never hire someone unless I think they are better than me. I want a company of CEOs. I only ask them to have a moral core, a commitment to my culture and community, and to follow simple administrative process. I seldom need to fire my associates.
So how do you engage, utilize and retain these creative, questing souls? Here are six specific suggestions.
- Give creatives meaningful work. Creatives often think about the bigger issues in life, the forest as well as the trees. Only give them interesting, challenging projects and clients. Give them hard stuff.
- Trust them. Assuming they are ethical and diligent, let them fumfer their own their own way to success. Give them the freedom and flexibility to flourish. Don’t force them into undue structure or quotas. It obviates the very reason you hired them.
- Be flexible. If they excel, let them do it their way. If they create superb results working five hours a week in their underwear at home, when you are paying them for 30 hours in the office, who cares?
- Give them a sense of ownership. Ask their opinion and take their advice seriously. Make them feel valued, an essential part of the organism that is your company.
- Don’t expect to motivate them through money. Of course pay them fairly, but research indicates these out-of-the-norm employees may actually be discouraged and perform poorly when they are rewarded just for completing a task. (Note the seminal research by Edward Deci, et.al. recorded in Psychological Bulletin, vol. 125, November, 1999.) And note what that irreplaceable wise man of motivation and happiness, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University, says in his classic book, Flow: “The most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake.” Indeed.
- As a caveat, do not make pure creatives managers.
When Jeff Bezos hired a search firm to staff up his aborning and disruptive company Amazon, he reportedly was asked what he was looking for in an employee. Supposedly he responded, “Give me you wackos.” Amen, Brother Jeff. Me, too.