Professional development, while one of the most important responsibilities we have as creative team leaders, is also the one that most often gets back-burnered due to more urgent priorities. Ironically, as with many of the strategic roles in our job descriptions, if we could attend to it, the fires we are constantly putting out might not even flare up.
While there is no silver bullet for implementing powerful professional development practices, there are fortunately some quick wins that you can achieve to incrementally build up a program and culture that will enhance your group’s performance and even drive engagement. Many of the ideas below were the result of a recent roundtable brainstorming session that Cella facilitated at our Minneapolis Creative Manager Boot Camp. Hopefully, you’ll find a few that you can put in place relatively easily and will quickly yield results.
- Create Pinterest boards that capture inspirational ideas and new design and concepting trends. You may want to ask your team members to each choose an area of personal interest that is also relevant to your business and then create a board about their passion to share with the team. To jumpstart the process, you should consider starting boards that you know will resonate with your group.
- Leverage existing meetings by piggybacking a professional development segment onto them. It can be difficult to find the time to hold a meeting dedicated to exploring new technological or functional best practices trends so carving out time within existing recurring meetings provides an opportunity for you and others to talk about new ideas and best practices relevant to creative groups.
- Document and distribute soft skills best practices. When it comes to email, meeting and general communication proper etiquette, simply providing a list of do’s and don’ts can go a long way toward improving your team’s collaborative skills and even enhance client relations as a bonus. It’s not like most of the folks working in our creative groups received significant training or guidance in this area so a few engagingly-crafted nuggets of guidance can go a long way.
- Share online content. The range and amount of virtual content that can support the development of your team in both hard and soft skills and that will inspire them as well, is staggering. You probably already have an idea of areas where you’d like to support your team, and it’s no more difficult than throwing out a couple of keywords in Google to retrieve an abundance of resources. The key is to establish a set schedule of when you share links with your team and to consistently send those recommendations out with a brief description both of what you’re sharing and how long it will take them to read or view the content.
- Hold “Lunch and Learns.” It’s not always reasonable to expect your team to attend after-hours events and this makes “Lunch and Learns” a perfect venue for professional development engagement. Your team is already on site or at work (if remote) and they’re probably going to be eating lunch, so hopefully, they won’t see attending a “Lunch and Learn” either in person or virtually, as a big ask. Like the sharing of online content, you can focus on hard or soft skills, assign team members to run L&Ls or make it really easy and curate movies, videos and online training to watch and discuss as a group.
- Buy books or magazines you believe would be of interest to your team and leave them on their desks. ‘Nuff said.
- Arrange, or better yet take advantage of, prearranged studio tours. There is much to learn from seeing first-hand how our peers work. If you know the leaders of other in-house or external agencies, you can reach out to them to schedule tours. An even easier route is to research what industry groups in your area are sponsoring tours and have your team join in.
- Give your team opportunities to try out new skills in a safe place. If you’re looking to develop the presentation or communication skills of certain members of your team, set up internal meetings where they can practice in front of their peers. When they step out into the “real world” and actually speak with clients, be there to support them, maybe even having them shadow you or another skilled presenter prior to their big debut.
- Shadowing internal and external team members. A “day in the life” of more senior coworkers or peers working in other disciplines and even colleagues in other departments in the company that your group partners with provides first-hand valuable insights into how your team works and interfaces with other groups.
- Set up a reverse mentorship program. Many of our teams have staff with long tenures who are, to put it kindly, stuck in a rut. With so many new technologies and business practices impacting companies, many organizations have established programs where younger employees are mentoring their older co-workers in the new world order. Creative teams check off all the boxes as a perfect candidate for this type of program.
- Establish a studio marketing initiative designed to engage the entire team. Some ideas to enroll the entire team in include creating a promotional calendar (assigning teams of 2 to each month), designing clever interoffice-oriented greeting cards to give to clients to share with their peers or launching a studio website (adhering to corporate security mandates, of course).
- Here’s a quick short list of some additional resources that are either free or very inexpensive to tap into:
- Competiscan – showcases work of other creative teams
- Grammarly – like its name, this platform corrects poor grammar (oh yes, and please mandate that your team use spellcheck)
- Toastmasters – they’ve been around forever – and that’s because the program effectively supports presentation skills
- Smartbrief – an online digest of a slew of business best practices
- Harvard Business Review – great content for your leadership team
- TEDtalks – if you don’t know about this platform, make it your first stop
Obviously not all of the above will work for you or your group, but there are surely 1 or 2 practices that, with minimal effort, could be put in place. The key is to take it slow and, more importantly, stay committed to the practices you establish. Many small successes over time can and will have a long-term positive impact on your team’s development, sense of accomplishment and engagement and ultimately their performance.
Andy Epstein is an industry thought leader in the field of in-house creative. He currently serves as the Director of Solutions 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.