I often hear creative team leads boast that their teams suffer little turnover when justifying their group’s culture. Yet when we dig into this a bit deeper, they confess that while their team members aren’t leaving, they are disengaged or, worse, visibly frustrated and angry and are acting out in passive-aggressive ways. These leaders may have warm bodies in seats, but what good is that if those folks are just doing time to punch a clock and get a paycheck—hardly a sign of a high-performing team.
Poor employee engagement is by no means only an in-house agency problem. Extensive research has actually uncovered the biggest dirty little secret of the corporate world: according to the Gallup polling firm, only 13% of workers globally are highly engaged at work. In other words, employee disengagement is rampant with figures hovering around 87%! The majority of workers worldwide wouldn’t even recommend their companies to their friends and families as a good place to work.
Clearly, it’s in your and your team’s best interest to put some effort into raising the level of engagement in your group, and there are specific areas you can focus on to achieve this. In case you didn’t get the memo, money is not at the top of the list of employee engagement drivers. That’s not to imply that compensation isn’t a critical consideration—it is in as much as the level of compensation should be consistent with market rates, the team member’s responsibilities and is also believed to be fair by both your organization and the team member. Once those boxes are checked off the impact of using money as an incentive to increase engagement is minimal.
There are other priorities your team members have about what they hope to get out of being a part of your group. As Dan Pink points out in his book on this topic, “Drive,” three of the top expectations of your team members, and thus drivers of engagement, are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose—aka, and yet another entry in your already-bloated acronym library, MAP. This post will focus on Mastery and is the first of three about MAP. .
Most designers, writers, developers, video editors, etc. didn’t join our creative community for the money. There are other careers where the dollar return is much higher. For most creatives, their careers chose them. They are driven by a fascination with and passion for their discipline. Given this reality it stands to reason that any support you and your organization gives them in improving their skills will be received with gratitude, loyalty and an increased focus on your organization’s business goals. The added bonus is that your team members will get better at their chosen disciplines raising the group’s productivity and quality of deliverables.
Mastery, though, does not just equate to improved functional skills, in the world of in-house agencies; it also applies to communication, interpersonal and business skills. For in-house creatives who often interact directly with clients and peers in other company departments, the abilities to write and speak in a clear and persuasive manner, understand their clients’ perspective and put their contributions into the larger context of the overall organization’s business goals and challenges is as critical to their success as their functional skills. These business-critical skills may not be obvious to your team, and so you should proactively suggest that your team explore these other areas of mastery as well.
There are a number of tactics available to you to support and accompany your team members on their path to mastery. Here are a few:
- Underwriting attendance at industry events
- Covering the cost of continuing education
- Providing memberships to discipline-specific organizations
- Baking mastery goals into performance reviews
- Cross-training team members
- Pairing more junior creatives with more experienced team members through formal mentoring programs (this develops both the mentor and the mentee)
- Acknowledging career achievements—both creative and business/operational
- Hosting industry thought leader speakers
- Providing internal stretch assignments
- Providing external stretch assignments such as writing for or presenting to industry organizations
- Recommending resources such as books, websites, thought leaders, publications, etc. aligned with mastery goals
- Most importantly, directly providing coaching, advice and encouragement to your team (a practice that disappointingly few respondents to Cella’s most recent in-house survey said they had time for)
Some of the above cost money, many do not, but they do require an investment of time and focus. All will fail unless you are committed to them, and support them in a consistent and formalized way. All also support a culture of continuous improvement for the individual as well as the team. With the benefits of not only enhanced engagement, but also improved culture, productivity and quality of creative, making pursuit of mastery a priority should be your highest priority.
Andy Epstein is an industry thought leader in the field of in-house creative. He currently serves as the Director of Studio Operations for Cella Solutions where he has oversight of the managed in-house agencies run by Cella. Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published “The Corporate Creative,” a book on in-house design in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, the former Programming Director for the InHOWse Managers Conference, and a key member of Cella’s professional development team. Andy is focused on empowering in-house teams to raise their stature in the design and business communities.