Employee creativity can help organizations weather storms, survive downturns, out-innovate their competition and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. So it’s in a manager’s best interest to help his or her team be creative.
Kathryn Bartol, Robert H. Smith Professor of Management and Organization, says that the way you lead your team may be the key to fostering a creative environment in your organization. Bartol, who has been studying the effects of empowering leadership for years, studied both managers and professional-level employees (such as software developers and new product developers) at a large information technology company in China. Bartol found that an empowering leadership style had a strong influence on the factors that encourage employee creativity.
Empowering leadership involves highlighting the significance of the work employees do, letting team members participate in decision making, conveying confidence in their performance, and removing bureaucratic constraints that might keep employees from succeeding.
Employees who had more autonomy felt empowered by their managers and were more motivated in their work. But that was not enough to encourage creativity. Managers then needed to communicate the importance of creativity to the organization and identify areas that require creative solutions.
“You have to channel people,” says Bartol. “It’s not enough just to empower people and let them go; you have to urge creativity and set the direction.”
Managers must also help team members understand the creative process. That involves identifying the problem the organization needs to address, gathering data to fully understand the problem, and generating possible solutions. Giving sufficient time and attention to each stop of the process is an important step to uncovering all possible solutions before choosing the one that works best in any particular organization.
How can you encourage creativity in your team?
- Make it clear that you are looking for new ideas. “You’d think this would be obvious, but it doesn’t have an impact unless you actually TELL people you want them to be creative,” says Bartol.
- Give your team autonomy with direction. Empower your employees, but make sure they’re addressing the issues you really care about.
- Don’t evaluate ideas too quickly. At the beginning of the creative process, let people spend time gathering data, exploring options and generating ideas without judging their usefulness. Some ideas will work and some won’t, but you want to mine all possibilities before you hone in on a solution.
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