Embracing ethics and creativity management in your firm

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By Goke Ilesanmi


Every day, managers and employees need to make decisions that have moral implications. And those decisions affect their company and shareholders. Conducting business in an ethical manner is the responsibility of everyone in an organisation for legal and business reasons. And as a manager, it is important to understand your ethical obligations so that you can meet your company’s expectations as well as model appropriate behaviour for others to emulate.




Corporate implication


The concept of ethics refers to a set of standards for judging right from wrong. At the most basic level, ethics mean acting fairly and honestly in individual as well as group decision-making. On a business level, it can refer to fair and honest competition, acting without deception and working within the boundaries of the law. According to Barrie Gross, a business management expert, “In the wake of corporate scandals over the past several years, most organisations have written or updated their Codes of Conduct and Ethics Rules. The first thing a manager should do is to read and understand those documents. That means understanding the actual words used in the documents along with the spirit and intent behind the words. The second thing to do is to be sure that your staff also reads and understands the documents and can come to you with any questions.”






If you act consistently ethical, you provide a foundation of trust in your relationships with others, and part of your goal is to show others what it means to make ethical decisions. The other part of your goal is to encourage others to come forwards if they suspect that someone is not acting ethically. Experts such as Carole Sue Jones, a contributing writer for Interactive Quality Solutions say as a result, your organisation will be in a position to look at that behaviour and stop it before it is out of control or worse, crosses the line into illegal conduct.




Ethical and legal issues


Everyday decisions involve ethical issues. Did you consider only legitimate business reasons for promoting some employees and not others? Was your decision to discipline a particular employee fair and consistent with how you have treated others? Are you tolerating behaviour from some that you do not tolerate in others? These are just some examples of questions you can ask yourself to be sure you are acting responsibly and ethically. Gross says, “And don’t forget that ethics rules will not always answer the issues you confront. Sometimes, for example, the line between ethical and legal conduct can get blurred. What if you found a document on the street that had sensitive information about a competitor’s product? Would you use it? It would be illegal if you stole such a document from the company’s premises, but say you found it on the street. Is it ethical to use it even though you assume that someone must have dropped it by accident?” These are not easy questions but are important to consider.




Training programme


As part of a company’s attempt to create an ethical organisation, it is important to offer an effective ethics training programme and the training should include more than just a review of your company’s ethical rules. The broader topic of ethics in a global economy is very important in today’s world of international business.




Managing creative staff


Apart from putting ethics in place to achieve tremendous corporate success, another factor that needs to be considered in an organisation’s thirst for success is the management of creativity or creative staff. Research has confirmed that almost everybody thinks he is a good manager. But according to a Gallup Poll, 25 per cent of U.S. employees would fire their bosses if they could. That means at least one in four managers is failing. This number is not surprising when you consider how few managers receive any kind of formal management training.


    Managing a group of creative people is challenging but rewarding work. Unless you learn to get the best out of your creative employees, your organisation may not thrive as expected. Your firm will be mediocre at best if you just hire and promote people who are friendly and easy to manage. Suppressed creativity is a malign organisational tumour. Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of Business Psychology at the University College London (UCL) and vice president of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems says although every organisation claims to care about innovation, very few are willing to do what it takes to keep their creative people happy or productive.




Steps to take and first approach


  While all employees are capable of being creative, and most work calls for some degree of creativity, there are special things to consider when managing self-identified right-brain thinkers. So what are the keys to engaging and retaining creative employees? You can manage creative staff in your organisation by deploying some strategies. We will look at these strategies one after the other.


  The first of these is to give your creative staff some structures. Creative people can sometimes be prone to flightiness. Provide enough structures to keep your creative employees on track and on schedule. But let them know when it is time to complete the task and move on to something new.




Creation of conducive atmosphere


Another thing is to cultivate a creativity-inducing space or create a conducive atmosphere. As much as possible, provide your employees with an environment that is conducive to their creativity. Kevin Eikenberry, president of the Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company that helps clients reach their potential educates that some people perform best when allowed to work on their own, while others need the stimulation that comes from being part of a group. Observe your employees and note when they do their best work.


    Chamorro-Premuzic paradoxically says you show your creative people unconditional support and encourage them to do the absurd and fail. This is because innovation comes from uncertainty, risk and experimentation. If you know it will work, then that is not creativity. Creative people are the natural experimenters, so let them deploy their talents.




Allowance of dream


You need to give employees time to dream and remember that creative employees need downtime to recharge. Make sure your employees are given time and room to think, explore, question, even play. An atmosphere of constant crisis will not help creative ideas to flourish. As the boss, your ethical or otherwise behaviour sets the tone of the workplace for everyone else.






  Another strategy for managing creative staff is to stress the importance of balance. Left to themselves, many creative people will neglect the less interesting, routine aspects of their work. But experts say such tasks are important, too especially that work must be documented in reports, paperwork must be completed, customers must be attended to. If your business is to function, that “boring” routine work must get done. Kevin Eikenberry, president of the Kevin Eikenberry Group, advises that while you should be flexible with your employees, you must also insist that they should not neglect the less exciting aspects of their job.






   In the same vein, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of Business Psychology at the University College London (UCL) and vice president of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems suggests that you surround creative staff with semi-boring people. He says the worst thing you can do to creative employees is to force them to work with someone like they are. They would compete for ideas, brainstorm eternally, or simply ignore each other. That said, you cannot surround creative staff with really boring or conventional people — they would not understand them, and fall out. In line with this, recent research indicates that teams made up of diverse members who are open to taking each others’ perspective perform most creatively.


    In his words, “The solution, then, is to support your creatives with colleagues who are too conventional to challenge their ideas, but unconventional enough to collaborate with them. These colleagues will need to pay attention to details, mundane executional processes, and do the dirty work: Messi needs Busquets and Puyol; Ronaldo needs Alonso and Ramos.”




Having trust in the process


Creative people need to spend time working without being micromanaged. Yes, reports are important — but so is trust in the process. This means allowing them the freedom to spend time developing wild, off-the-wall ideas without having to constantly report on their progress. Some creative work must be sheltered from the cold light of day, especially when ideas are incomplete and untested. This allows creativity to blossom.






  Another thing is to direct creative staff at your actual problems. Communication with your employees is crucial if you want them to turn their natural skills to solving your real business problems. Provide your employees with information and direction so that they grasp the big picture rather than becoming obsessed with the smaller details. Eikenberry says you define a real problem your organisation is facing and turn them loose — the results may surprise you. Chamorro-Premuzic suggests that you only involve them in meaningful work. Natural innovators tend to have more vision. They see the bigger picture and are able to understand why things matter. The downside to this is that they simply will not engage in meaningless work. This all-or-nothing approach to work mirrors the bipolar temperament of creative artists, who perform well only when inspired — and inspiration is fuelled by meaning. This rule can also be applied to other employees: everyone is more creative when driven by their genuine interests and a hungry mind.


   As novelist John Irving puts it, “The reason I can work so hard at my writing is that it’s not work for me”. At the same time, in any organisation there will be employees who are less interested in, well, doing interesting work; they are satisfied with simply clocking in and out, and are incentivised by external rewards. Companies should ensure that trivial or meaningless work is assigned to these employees.”




Generosity with commendation


  You to provide reinforcement and support for your creative employees. It may appear that employees who are engaged in creative work have all the reward they need from the work they do, but in fact they need support as much as anyone else. Avoid taking creative people for granted. These workers are no different from your other employees — everyone needs praise and recognition for work well done.






   Being open to new ways of working is another strategy recommended for managing creativity in the corporate environment. As much as possible, creative people should have the freedom to work on their own terms and on their own schedule. Allow them to be responsible. This does not mean there is no accountability, but the accountability is not necessarily measured in hours hunched over a desk. Rather, the accountability is seen in quantifiable results that a brilliant new idea or anything else they can dream up.




Never put pressure on creative people


 Creativity is usually enhanced by giving people more freedom and flexibility at work. If you like structure, order and predictability, you are probably not creative. However, we are all more likely to perform more creatively in spontaneous, unpredictable circumstances — because we cannot rely on our habits. So do not constrain your creative employees by forcing them to follow processes or structures. Let them work remotely and outside normal hours. This is the secret to managing Don Draper, and why he never went to work for a bigger competitor. This is also why so many top athletes fail to make the transition from a small to a big team, and why business founders are usually unhappy to remain in charge of their ventures once they are acquired by a bigger company.




Poor pay


   There is a paradox about motivating creative people. This is that you need to pay them poorly. There is a longstanding debate about the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of Business Psychology at the University College London (UCL) and vice president of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems says over the past two decades, psychologists have provided compelling evidence for the so-called “over-justification” effect, namely the process whereby higher external rewards impair performance by depressing a person’s genuine or intrinsic interest.


   Most notably, two large-scale meta-analyses reported that, when tasks are inherently meaningful (and creative tasks are certainly in this condition), external rewards diminish engagement. Chamorro-Premuzic stresses that this is true in both adults and children, especially when people are rewarded merely for performing a task. However, providing positive feedback (praises) does not harm intrinsic motivation, so long as the feedback is perceived as genuine.




Moral of the story  


 Chamorro-Premuzic says the moral of the story is that the more you pay people to do what they love, the less they will love it. I am sure this assertion may not hold here in Nigeria because of desperation for survival. In the words of Czikszentmihalyi, “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.” More importantly, people with a talent for innovation are not driven by money. Research on over 50,000 managers from 20 different countries indicates that the more imaginative and inquisitive people are, the more they are driven by recognition and sheer scientific curiosity rather than commercial needs.




Building a team


  Employees want the respect of their peers; peer recognition and the power of the team are great motivators. Find ways to ensure that your workers can earn the respect of their peers, and if necessary employ group pressure to hold them accountable for their work. Ensure that people’s productivity is measured in terms of more meaningful criteria than mere hours spent working.


   According to T.S. Eliot, “Most of the trouble in this world is caused by people wanting to be important”. And the reason is that others fail to recognise them. Fairness is not treating everyone the same, but like they deserve. Every organisation has high and low potential employees, but only competent managers can identify them. If you fail to recognise your employees’ creative potential, they will go somewhere where they feel more valued.




Surprising them


  Few things are as aggravating to creative people as boredom. Creative people seek constant change, even when it is counterproductive. They take a different route to work every day, even if it gets them lost. Creativity is linked to higher tolerance of ambiguity. Creative people love complexity and enjoy making simple things complex rather than vice-versa. Chamorro-Premuzic asserts that instead of looking for the answer to a problem, they prefer to find a million answers. It is therefore essential that you keep surprising your creative employees or at least let them create enough chaos to make their own lives less predictable.




Final note


  Even when you are able to manage your creative employees, it does not mean that you should let them manage others. Research shows that natural innovators are rarely gifted with leadership skills. There is a profile for good leaders, and a profile for creative people and they are rather different. Chamorro-Premuzic says Steve Jobs had better relationships with gadgets than people, and most Google engineers are utterly disinterested in management. One of the reasons for the rapid collapse of start-ups is that their founders tend to remain in charge.


   Mark Zuckerberg brought in Sheryl Sandberg to make up for his own leadership deficiency. Research confirms that corporate innovators, that is, intrapreneurs exhibit many of the psychopathic characteristics preventing them from being effective leaders. They are rebellious, anti-social, self-centred and often too engaged to care about the welfare of others. If you manage them and their inventions well, they will impress you. By putting ethics in place and managing creativity well, the sky is the beginning not the limit of your firm’s potential for great achievements.


  GOKE ILESANMI, Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Certified Public Speaker/MC, Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker and Career Management Coach. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.


Tel: 08055068773; 08187499425


Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com


Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng




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