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Growing Your Company

Building a Better In-House Creative Team

If you oversee an in-house creative department, you may find that your employees' greatest strengths are also your biggest management challenges. The desire to innovate and develop original concepts is an essential quality in design and marketing professionals. But this trait also may make it harder to keep your top performers engaged when they're promoting one brand instead of several, as within an agency setting.

As a manager, it takes a little creativity on your part, as well as strong leadership skills, to keep your talent inspired and producing their best work. Here are some tips:

Remember the work is the bottom line

While fair pay is important to creatives, the ability to develop compelling images and ideas - and receive recognition for them - matters just as much. Praise your staff generously, and communicate their successes to senior management. Enter employee projects in local, regional and national design, marketing and communication shows, along with giving members a range of assignments that will keep them motivated and fresh.

Continue the learning curve

Creatives are interested in getting to know new software programs and keeping up with current trends. Training your print designer on the web is not only motivating and educational - it helps diversify the talent level of your staff. Sending team members to seminars where they can learn the latest trends and techniques can also revitalize them.

Create varied career paths

Not all designers aspire to management - or are cut out for it. Yet, within many organizations, transitioning into an art director or creative director is the only way to move up. If possible, try to develop alternative options that enable team members to advance their careers without supervising others. When you promote employees to management roles, make sure they're given the training necessary to succeed. Mentoring programs and leadership seminars can help prepare staff to assume new responsibilities.

Keep them connected

In-house creatives are sometimes the last to learn of company challenges, strategies and bottom-line results. This can stem from communication lapses, or the design team may not show an active interest in this type of information. Whatever the reason, knowing as much as possible about the business as a whole is essential to producing the strongest work - and feeling part of the team. Regularly share company news with your staff. When assigning a project, put it into context: Why is this piece necessary? What does the business hope to achieve? Who will be using a particular item, and how? Why did the last similar project work or not work? How will results be measured? If you're promoting a new product, show your staff samples of it and explain how the new item will be used. If it's a service, have them test it out.

Create a comfortable work environment

Design and marketing professionals are typically accustomed to putting in long hours, although not always in the 8 to 5 fashion. Flexible work schedules are a strong incentive - and enable team members to work when they're at their best. Those who have migrated from agency environments also may be used to casual dress codes and colorful decor, so try to accommodate them where possible. An inviting atmosphere, including a comfortably and creatively outfitted "brainstorming" room, can be beneficial.

Take the cue from your team

If the overall work of your department appears tired and uninspired, chances are your brand is suffering from malaise, too. To stay competitive, companies must continually reinvent themselves. Convincing senior management that a new direction is necessary can test your powers of persuasion, but if your staff members view the brand as stale, there's a good chance your customers feel the same. Taking your marketing materials to the next level can re-energize your employees while enhancing your company's image.

Retaining your top performers is no small task. Unless team members are continuously challenged, appreciated and producing strong work, most of these professionals will spend only a few years in any given environment. By giving your staff the support, recognition, techonology and information they need, and helping them develop professionally, you can create an in-house department that consistently produces high-caliber work.

This article has been reprinted with permission from HOWdesign.com and written by The Creative Group. For more information, please visit their website at www.creativegroup.com.