10 ways to hire and retain more creative people

By Ken Wexley and Doug StrouseStrouse_Wexley

An innovative company can’t exist without creative people. But finding those people and convincing them to work for you is easier said than done. It takes a combination of cultural change and a carefully crafted hiring process to get those folks in the door — and keep them there.

1. Make innovation your mission

Begin by making creativity and innovation part of your company’s mission and vision statement. Use The Walt Disney Company as your model: “… we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable experiences and related products in the world.”

2. Test for creativity

Give yourself three minutes to think of as many uses of a wire hanger as you possibly can. People with creative talent can generate many useful ideas, while others find it difficult to get beyond using wire hangers for clothes. This is one example of the type of question that appears on tests for hiring innovative employees. Incorporate these tests into your hiring process to identify creative thinkers.

3. Present real problems

Asking job candidates to solve real-world problems allows the company to identify job candidates who can work with others to generate innovative solutions. At one company we’ve worked with, three managerial candidates are asked to work together to solve the following problem: “Plant statistics show that newly hired employees have the greatest number of accidents and injuries, and that your department has had an influx of new employees. The most common types of injuries have been cuts, bruises and abrasions of the hands.”

4. Interview for the unusual

Creative people have essential characteristics that can be assessed during employment interviews. For instance, they typically have backgrounds full of varied experiences, rather than narrow career paths with limited life experiences. They also enjoy doing things in unconventional ways, and they are not corporate conformists. Design your interview questions to uncover these characteristics, and engage an organizational psychologist if you need help.

5. Be open-minded

To find the innovators who will make the right kind of change in your business, stop searching for people who do things the way you do them. At one of our client companies, an assistant billing manager came up with a new way of invoicing clients. The billing manager’s initial reaction was hesitant: “That’s not how I’ve been doing it for years.” But it turned out the new way was more efficient and cost effective, and the billing manager’s willingness to change resulted in better operational procedures.

6. Foster a creative culture

Creative people thrive in a culture where they feel free to present their ideas without fear of criticism. And that kind of culture starts at the top. Make it clear that innovative thinking is part of everyone’s job description, including yours. Discourage your team from focusing on what they dislike about others’ ideas unless they are able to generate a better solution, and ask managers to encourage rather than criticize others’ ideas.

7. Maximize intrinsic motivation

Innovative behavior is fueled by the inherent satisfaction of performing an activity successfully. Managers in your company can maximize this type of motivation in employees by providing:

  • Autonomy — the freedom and independence to carry out a job in one’s own way
  • Challenge — the opportunity to perform work that requires individuals to “stretch” their innovative capabilities
  • Significance — the degree to which an employee feels that creative accomplishments have a substantial impact on others’ lives

8. Encourage outside inspiration

Get employees’ creative juices flowing by encouraging them to attend webinars or continuing education courses — and cover the costs when you can. To get started, look into the Disney Institute’s Creativity and Innovation course, Harvard’s Creativity in Business seminar and David Michael & Company’s Innovation Roadshow.

9. Manage differently

Creative people often prefer unconventional management styles. They are not typically 9-to-5 types of people, and they certainly don’t appreciate punching a time clock. Brainstorm new ways to manage their work and performance, whether it’s on a project-by-project basis or on a success basis of completed work. Either way, be sure to build in deadlines that everyone agrees and adheres to.

10. Recognize creative achievements

Schedule a meeting with your executive team, and ask them one key question: “What can we do to recognize individuals who generate creative and innovative ideas?” Once you receive the input, start implementing those ideas. CEO

Kenneth N. Wexley has his Ph.D. in organizational psychology and is CEO and president of Wexley Consulting – HRD, L.L.C., an Annapolis-based management consulting firm. Douglas A. Strouse is the president of the CEO Club of Baltimore and also has his Ph.D. in organizational psychology. Contact them at ken@wexleyconsulting.com or doug@ceoclubofbaltimore.com.

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