Do Companies Reward Our Creativity?
Winning Business Magazine, December 2001
We our always told by our bosses to be creative. To come up with new ideas. To do things differently. To think out of the box. But how much of this is simply corporate speak? Most of the people I talk to in the pub on a Friday night tell me they have given up being creative in their jobs. They have stopped coming up with ideas to do things better. Now they keep their heads down. They do what is expected of them and keep their ideas to themselves.
The reality of business life is that being creative is seen by too many corporate leaders as threatening. Coming up with ideas is seen as too challenging. What we do today is the right way. To suggest anything different is to query our bosses' judgment. We may put forward positive suggestions but they are received as negative criticisms.
The outcome is business cultures that are conformist. It means we all become corporate yes men and women. None of us are prepared to take a stand for the ultimate good of the company. Appraisal schemes reinforce this tendency. We are measured according to key performance targets. We are expected to achieve these by sticking to company procedures. Culture building programmes also force us into conformity. Instead of creating high innovative performance, these guarantee that we do things as the company expects them to be done.
One of the great joys of being a sales or marketing professional is that we are less subject to these stifling corporate controls. We spend a lot of our time off site, on the road, at our customers' premises. Unlike most of our colleagues, we have more freedom to do things as we want to. We have to achieve our targets but we are left alone. We can be innovative and use creative techniques to clinch deals. More often than not, it means doing things differently than how the company expects them to be done. We take advantage of our independence to be creative for the good of the company.
As a profession, we are lucky. Most of our colleagues do not have this opportunity to be creative. They work under the noses of their bosses who watch their every move. No escape for them down the motorway to see a customer. Heads of business units have their preferred ways of doing things and that is that.
The inability to handle employee creativity is one of the most damning criticisms of British management. It means that people get bored with their jobs. Their potential is never fully used and they queue up to take early retirement. And what do they do next? Many of them set up highly successful entrepreneurial ventures based on ideas that they were never allowed to test with their employers. This is also why so many young graduates quit their first jobs so quickly. It is also the major reason for women starting their own businesses. They leave their companies because their talents go unrecognised. What is the cost to the economy of unexciting, conformist British management when it stifles so much creativity? Business innovation is not a functional process; it is a corporate culture.
© Professor Richard Scase