Copyright Ó by Bruce Ario, 6/25/02
Many opportunities and rewards are lost because creativity in the
workplace is absent. Instead of having a productive and stimulating environment,
workers are faced with boredom as a result of relentless routine.
This translates into absenteeism and low morale. It should be the job of the manager to reverse this phenomenon to create a positive and invigorating atmosphere.
The biggest pleasure for a worker is to participate fully in their job. They need to be completely present in order to achieve satisfaction. This means workers need to have the freedom to be the best they can be.
All the tools a worker needs to deliver a quality product must be made available. A worker who feels underemployed is not happy and productive.
This is where creativity comes in. As humans, we are creative beings. It is a fundamental quality we have and it is also necessary in the workplace. Creativity which is harnessed -if that's an oxymoron, it still is true -can be linked to higher productivity and a more positive workplace. It is a well that never dries up.
In their book, Corporate Creativity, authors Alan G. Robinson and Sam Stem skillfully argue creativity is essential to the workplace. They accept that as so obvious they spend little time to justify it as indispensable.
They go one step further and focus on the fact that in most companies, potential creativity far exceeds creative performance. They claim most creative acts are unplanned and come from and out of situations where it would least be expected. The real power of creativity then lies in the unexpected. The manager must set up an environment where creativity flows.
How do we go about that? One big step is to realize creativity probably got a bad rap from many sources along the way. "Johnny must know the nuts and bolts," "Suzy must hide those silly ideas." From our teachers on into adulthood, much of our influence has been to conform. Do the safe thing. Don't take risks. Do what everyone else is doing. We can view our lives as one long effort to tow the line.
What a joy then when we can see another side. It's like a precious gift. Allowing and even promoting creativity is like that. For once we can be out of the box. We can bring our most fundamental instinct to bear and, at work, no less. Won't everything fall apart if everyone is going willy-nilly around doing their own independent thing?
No, it doesn't mean that. Creativity is not equivalent to anarchy. It is different in an essential way. Creativity is an instinct to produce. Anarchy is an absence of any structure. Creativity can bring home the bacon. Anarchy at its best is a passing fancy under a corrupt system. If you link the two together, you are making a blinding mistake. I know managers want and need to maintain control, but the real issue is, how much are you producing? It's tough for your workers to work under a whip. We need to let them be their best. In the long run we will see how this really helps the company. It's more than just "a happy worker is a good worker." It's more "a happy worker is the only kind of worker." Allow them the freedom to be creative.
This involves letting go of a little control. Your workers will seize control back whether you sanction it or not. They will call in sick. They won't work 100 percent. They are many little ways they can silently revolt. However, it you let them know they have some latitude, you have immediately circumvented the control game.
Besides, an opportunity for creativity is not a path to bedlam. The employees still know the work must get done, but now they have a chance for their input to make a difference. Different jobs allow varying degrees in how much the individual can do things his or her way. Some jobs require strict adherence to a systematic method. Nevertheless, there is always room for some input into the process by the workers.
In many situations, a common occurrence is a worker will discover a new way of doing a job clearly superior to the method previously used. Workers who are "hands on" have the best perspective on how to do a job. Their suggestions can end up saving a company a lot of money. In addition, the worker with the idea gets a lot of satisfaction from the implementation of his or her idea.
How then do we go about facilitating creativity in the workplace? In Corporate Creativity, the authors laid out "The Six Essential Elements of Corporate Creativity":
2. Self-initiated activity
3. Unofficial activity
5. Diverse stimuli
6. Within-company communication
Alignment is about ensuring the interests and actions of all employees are directed toward a company's key goals. Self-initiated activity is allowing an employee to pick out problems they are interested in and feel able to solve. Unofficial activity occurs in the absence of direct official support and with the intent of doing something new and useful. Serendipity is the chance for fortunate accidents. Diverse stimuli happen in the course of everyday work, and it is important workers discuss the possibilities they encounter, which is the final element, within-company communication.
This ground-laying for corporate creativity that serves to benefit the company, is also relevant to workers' creativity. There are at least three elements which are needed for this type of creativity.
1. Workers' ownership of their work.
2. A flexible workplace.
3. Managers who are directors and not taskmasters.
Workers, who spend a large part of their day at ajob, need a connection between the work they do and their own ideas. They are not puppets but free agents who have agreed to do the work. It is a two-way street between bosses and workers. The boss cannot place him/herself in the seat of power and ignore the needs of the workers. Both parties have a legitimate stake in the work at hand. Both sides need understanding.
The workplace must allow for variances in the personalities and work styles of the employees. We are all a little different. That's why the workplace must adjust to meet the needs of its individuals. This is not to say personalities dominate.
It is the exact opposite. The workplace must be a melting pot of individuals who bring their talents to contribute to the production of a good.
When these workers can be allowed to express their own sense of creativity, that's when work gets done.
It is the manager's job to direct this scenario. A person is needed to guide the workers through the production process. Always open-minded to new possibilities, the manager becomes the one who sows the seeds and reaps part of the harvest.
The manager must be ready to reap a varied harvest. It may be a harvest that is not anticipated -this is fine and maybe even optimal. If the manager is directing for production, then he or she must allow their producers to produce. Give your workers the opportunity to adapt the job to their style.
Some employees will be more creative than others. These employees will be most effective for you when they are given a chance to use their input.
A skillful manager will not cramp their style. You've got to believe in your workers- they are mature, responsible and reliable.
More than that, they can excel when given the opportunity. Using the six elements of corporate creativity or some variation of them can guide workers along an uphill path and can bring the profit curve pointing up.
As for the workers, they will enjoy their jobs more when they feel an increased level of their own input.
The satisfaction of hands-on involvement has been consistently recognized by companies in the last few decades. When you give the staff their freedom, you are saying, "You are a valuable employee."
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