How to Motivate Employees on Your Design Team

motivation2The creative industry faces many challenges – rapid technological change, tough competition and talent shortages, to name just a few. But according to a recent survey from The Creative Group, the most difficult task for advertising and marketing executives today is motivating employees.

As a manager in the design industry, one of your responsibilities is to keep your staff humming with productivity and creativity. Here are five tips for helping employees stay inspired and engaged on the job.

1. Focus on collaboration rather than competition. There are some areas of business, such as sales, where a high level of competition brings out the best among colleagues. Design isn’t one of them. In-house creative professionals, for the most part, are at their peak when they’re working with – not against – each other. When there’s a spirit of teamwork and a free flow of ideas in the office, the results are high-quality designs and happy employees.

2. Make ’em laugh. What’s your management style: rigid and overbearing or easygoing and approachable? Although the idea of the “hilarious boss” can cause some people cringe, humor is an important part of a highly creative work environment. When used well, it can strengthen relationships, reduce stress and make it easier to address difficult topics. So let your team know it’s OK to goof around a little, and trust them to recognize when it’s time be serious.

3. Get staff outside. When brainstorming about how to motivate employees, don’t forget the restorative power of nature. Help your designers find inspiration and respite away from the office by:

  • Holding walking one-on-one meetings
  • Planning team retreats with plenty of outdoor time
  • Organizing a staff lunch in a park
  • Scheduling ideation sessions in a sculpture garden, arboretum or another scenic venue

4. Provide professional development opportunities. One of the biggest frustrations for creatives is to feel they’ve peaked professionally and creatively. Managers wondering how to motivate employees need to stay on top of this by ensuring that their designers are continually learning. Consider inviting a guest speaker to an upcoming department meeting or subsidizing external training. Investing in your staff’s career development shows that you value their skills and want to grow their abilities.

Another good way to reward staff and add to their skill set is to send them to design conferences. Events like HOW Design Live can help your employees get inspired and acquire new knowledge to take their work to the next level.

5. Talk about successes – and failures. When someone does a great job, it’s a big deal. Get employees to stop what they’re doing, talk about what went right and celebrate! Be generous with praise and tokens of appreciation. Everyone wants validation for creativity and hard work.

Talk about failures, too. Flops can teach us a lot. Market research agency GfK has a “museum of failed products” in its Ann Arbor, Mich., location. Officially called NewProductWorks, this 100,000-item collection looks at past and present consumer products and why some succeeded while others didn’t. You don’t need to open an in-house museum of failed concepts and campaigns, but do discuss dud ideas in a supportive and encouraging way with the goal of learning from them.

Knowing how to motivate employees is not easy. In your role as a creative manager, one of your most important tasks is to take care of your staff and keep them in top form. Make this challenge a priority, and your team will continue to produce outstanding work and remain loyal to your company.


caffeine_for_the_creative_team_ebook_cover_1The creative exercises in Caffeine for the Creative Team are meant to be matches to the kindling. They’re meant to initiate a shift in focus and prime the participants to begin to think in creative, alternative ways. They are a transition from the execution and management side of our profession to the creative side. Have fun with them, keep them light and encourage buy-in with them. The more open your team is during the exercise, the quicker they will remove the masks of responsibility to think and share openly.

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