In-house Issues: Clockers & Hacks

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing recent grads for an opening in our art department. It was a real rush to be exposed to their passion for design and enthusiasm at the prospect of working at Designer Greetings.  It gave me pause, though, because the experience threw into stark contrast all of my past dealings with in-house creatives who either never had, or had lost, their zeal for and commitment to the practice of design – the clockers and the hacks.

Every designer’s inspiration ebbs and flows, a slave to internal rhythms and external circumstances, but there are some (too many in the in-house community) creatives who have turned their jobs from a calling into a burden and just a means to earn a living. Most likely, they’re not reading this post, so my comments are directed to those of you who are their peers and managers and I’m saying quite bluntly – get them off your team.

Lest I sound completely heartless, I want to point out the consequences of enabling this cadre of slackers. Their presence in your group:

  • Lowers the performance bar for your team and eats away at morale
  • Places additional burden on other team members who have to pick up the slack (if you’re feeling bad about letting someone go, just think how unfair and difficult it is for their co-workers to take on the jobs that the hacks can’t, or won’t, perform)
  • Lowers the status of the team in the eyes of your clients and upper management (reinforces the bias that in-house teams don’t operate at the same level as design firms and ad agencies)
  • Impacts the ability of your team to meet corporate expectations and your personal mission

This is the point where I’d better back up and expand on my candid recommendation. First, there are some roles for which a clocker might be a good fit. Any hardcore production position that involves repetitive tasks would be an appropriate option, as would jobs that are more project management and data entry focused. A clocker might also be considered for a presentation specialist role if the job involves working off of templated designs, or as a technician skilled in ad resizing or prepping files for press.

Second, it’s extremely important to understand that designers express their commitment and passion in different ways. Just because a creative team member isn’t an active participant in brainstorming sessions and up for attending industry events doesn’t mean she isn’t committed to good design. If she is more quiet in her approach, by reaching out to others for advice and support more privately, or she chooses to get her information and inspiration through books, magazines and the web, acknowledge and respect that expression of her passion.

Most importantly, do not use this post as a weapon to force staff to work overtime or deal with client abuse that would compromise their quality of life. Passion does not constitute an unconditional willingness on the part of an in-house creative to work extended hours or become a designer doormat for clients or co-workers. Commitment and passion are expressed in a creative’s insatiable need to grow as a designer, create outstanding work and contribute to the team and the company by being uncompromising in their commitment to conceiving and executing great work.

Show your committed designers the respect they deserve by raising the bar and expectations for those who don’t share the same values and dismissing them if they refuse to rise to the occasion. And don’t worry; there are plenty of talented enthusiastic grads waiting in the wings to take their place.