Creatives are idealists. We can imagine a design, building, song or story as a complete vision right in our heads. This same big-picture faculty has been applied by design team managers to processes and procedures, staffing structures and business models. Over the years, with each new role, I’ve become adept at the latter. I’ve discovered, though, that by placing too much emphasis on my role as a strategist that I’ve lost sight of the street level needs of the teams I’ve managed.
At one job, only in retrospect, I realized that while I was running around to branding brainstorms, process pow-wows and management mentoring meetings I had neglected some key challenges my team was facing. Specifically, clients and the account team were handing projects off to our designers so poorly that it was impossible for them to execute their assignments properly. In addition, revisions were coming from multiple sources and the annotated hardcopy was a hot mess of markups and stets. I never fixed that problem and missed an excellent opportunity to improve the efficiency of the group.
More recently, I took a job where I defaulted to working more strategically, when the signs clearly, at least in the beginning, called for a more tactical approach. The production process was very complex and closely integrated with the company’s warehouse and operations teams. The managers were getting pulled into meetings outside of their normal roles and were being tasked with responsibilities that took them away from their core mandates. I never took the time to get intimately involved with those SOPs and ad hoc roles and again missed an opportunity to make needed adjustments to them.
At both engagements I was able to make significant contributions, but had I rolled up my sleeves a bit higher, I could have had an even bigger impact. I’d urge any manager becoming intoxicated with high-level meetings and rubbing elbows with members of the c-suite to get into the trenches once and a while and mix up strategic exercises with some hard core tactical experiences.