This recent crisis has revealed a struggle for a lot of leaders. They don’t know how to lead their creatives. When I say creatives I’m talking about them all - copywriters, videographers, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers and social media managers. In the past, staff and volunteers with these talents did their thing in the background while the organization kept humming along. But this Coronavirus season has thrown them into the spotlight because of increased demands for rapid communication.
Below are some best practices to help you lead creatives during a time of crisis. I’ve utilized these best practices while on staff with organizations of 5, 50 and 500. So regardless of your organization's size, these practices will apply to you. I’ll talk into this topic from both perspectives. Cause I’ve been in both seats. I’ve been led as a creative and I’ve led creatives. So I see this issue from each side of the fence. Let's jump it.
Give Clear Instructions
Nothing depletes an organization like movement without direction. This applies for creatives as well. Because of this it is always best to give clear instructions upfront. Knowing the purpose, timeline, target audience, distribution method & desired outcome upfront sets everybody up for success. Another way I give clear instructions to creatives on a new project is by identifying if I’m looking for inspiration or execution. Inspiration means, I’m not sure what I want, so I’ll give you a very rough framework and then come back at me with a number of ideas or pitches. Execution means exactly that, I want you to execute this one idea, so no need going into brainstorming mode. Another way to say this is either execute an idea or create some concepts. When creatives have this clarity upfront, it helps them avoid wasting their time by developing unneeded concepts.
Creatives thrive on this. If you give your creative praise, they'll work with you for a while. If you don’t give your creative praise, they’ll look for someone else to work with. I can attest to this personally. One of the first jobs I had as a creative was for a leader that was never satisfied. I was contracted to work 40 hours a week. But since I wasn’t earning the approval of my boss, I bumped it up to 45. Then 50. Then 55. When I hit 60 hours a week in a thankless environment, I started looking for another job. And it wasn’t the hours that did me in, it was the lack of praise. So leaders, don’t push creatives away because of something so simple as praise. Generously give it to your creatives and it will increase the longevity of your work relationship.
Ask For Excellence Not Perfection
When Peter Jackson, the acclaimed director of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy was asked if he got it perfect he said, "No. You never get it perfect. You just run out of time." If this award winning director, was able to be comfortable with the lack of perfection after spending a decade of his life on this movie, then we should be willing to as well as we look for newsletters to get designed or webpages to get updated. So when you are leading your creatives, set the high standard of excellence but not the unrealistic standard of perfection. This will help them reach for lofty goals, but not feel deflated with the realities of shortcomings.
Coach Them To Handle Criticism
A lot of frustration for a creative can come during the feedback process. Unless properly guided, a creative may feel attacked during this process. I usually like to start any feedback session by reinforcing we are critiquing their work, and not them as individuals. Stating this upfront helps remove a degree of the emotions naturally embedded in the process. Another way to coach your creative to handle criticism well is by encouraging them to solicit community feedback before client feedback. Sometimes the creative may have an inaccurate view of their work. They repeatedly think it is great when it is repeatedly mediocre or subpar. If this is the case, encourage them to present their work in an online community of artists in the same field and ask for feedback. Facebook has a ton of these communities. Either their misconceptions as the creative, or your misconceptions as the leader will be cleared up. Either way, it will bring clarity to the work which will increase forward movement.
Pastor Their Artistic Heart
I work in a religious setting so this might not apply to you. But if it does, keep reading. Remember that creatives want to proclaim Christ just as much as the Lead Pastor does. I mention this because sometimes the leader is seen as extra spiritual because they have the word “pastor” in their title. But just because they are the leader doesn’t make them more spiritual, or any less. The whole reason creatives are using their talents within the church, either as a volunteer or staff member, is because they love Jesus. Talented creative folks with experience have a unique skill set and could often be earning double working outside of the church. They want to make that sacrifice because of their love for Christ. So remember that creatives love Jesus too.
So those are my best practices for leading creatives during a time of crisis. Hopefully these practices will help strengthen the work relationship with your creatives and in turn execute better work faster. If I missed anything, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know. I would love to hear from you and learn from you. You can find additional training videos at benstapley.info/speaker and you connect with me on social media. Have yourself an awesome day.