Managing loyalty in the creative services
Creativity is the essence of human initiative and success. Yet, it is also the most difficult human attribute to manage. Public relations and advertising are particularly dependent on the creative output of their employees. These individuals must work efficiently and with consistency, but still maintain a high level of creativity and originality. This type of independent thought requires a significant degree of intellectual freedom within the workplace.
The problem management faces is providing a creative environment without undermining necessary corporate administration. How can the manager of a creative services firm perform this balancing act? This seemingly insoluble dilemma does have a solution: the enhancement of corporate loyalty.
Without a strong creative staff, a firm would be unable to develop strategies and programs for its clients that can give one service or product an edge against its competitors. Individual talent is, to a large degree, responsible for a firm's good reputation and growth. But with individual talent comes a strong ego. This is especially true in public relations, where the ability to "sell oneself" and an idea is so vital. However, the ego can often come into conflict with the organizational requirements of company policy. Without an efficient administration, a firm will lose profitability and eventually fall by the wayside, even with a talented staff. So the ego must be tempered enough to embrace the team concept.
The need for two-way trust
Some argue that a policy of high job security can keep an individual within a required framework. In this environment of mergers, acquisitions and economic fluctuations, however, such locks can hinder a company's adaptability and the individual's opportunities for growth. After all, the only job security anyone really has is his or her own talent. Talented and creative members of the work force have the ability to move around within the job market. For this reason, job security is often not what they are looking for. With the establishment of loyalty, however, creative people will often choose to remain with a firm.
Rather than setting up impractical job guarantees, management should seek two-way trust in the management-employee relationship. If a firm engages in solid and intelligent hiring practices, a policy of promoting this mutual trust between the two levels will be highly effective. It will eventually lead to the growth of a stronger bond--loyalty.
The best way to create and develop this loyalty is through the establishment of a "corporate culture" that gives employees a stake in the well-being of the firm. This is not strictly a financial stake, although finances can play a role.
The corporate culture should cover a far broader spectrum of ideas. The creative talent should be drawn into a situation where they take the progress of the firm as a whole, and not just their own sections of it, personally. Management should attempt to achieve this psychological partnership through mutual trust.
Once a true sense of loyalty grows within the firm, it is essential that management grant more creative freedom to the staff. This does not mean, however, that specialists in a given area should not collaborate. Creative collaboration among different branches of the company, as well as between employees and management, will enhance the growth of a corporate culture.
Loyalty--a potent tool
The creative person's ego will thrive in an atmosphere where his or her ability to perform without a large degree of supervision, either alone or in collaboration, is not questioned. In addition, he or she will place more faith in management's decisions dealing with the business side of the firm. Moreover, while job security simply develops belief in one's safety at a firm, and can
actually breed complacency, loyalty is far more potent for a creative services firm because it creates an atmosphere in which the talents of each member are used to their greatest potential and directed towards the best possible purpose for that member. Loyalty breeds focus on an individual level, which will carry over onto an organizational scale, enhancing both personal creativity and team production.
An excellent example of the potential of loyalty in the public relations field is provided by a small firm founded by a charismatic individual. Neither financial incentives nor job security is the true key to this firm's success. Rather, the employees are made to feel as if they have a real stake in the future of the company, which inspires a feeling of partnership among the staff.
Each individual knows that, if he or she performs as expected, the opportunities are wide open. Someone who starts as an account rep can eventually become a full partner, with talent and ambition. Furthermore, the employees are assured that if the company is to be sold, it will be sold to them. The net result is a feeling of intense loyalty throughout the ranks, and the strengthening of the corporate culture for the present and the future. This firm has one of the lowest turnover rates in the business.
This example brings to light an interesting problem: To what extent is charisma useful to the development of corporate loyalty? Obviously, the charisma of an individual leader can be a powerful tool in the development of a focused staff. But there is an inherent danger in this method of management. What will happen if the leader, for any of a variety of possible reasons, is forced to leave the firm? If loyalty is based solely on the force of one person's personality, it could fall apart without the individual's presence.
Moreover, some management experts believe that using charisma as a management tool tends to destroy the benefits of planning and teamwork. This is a false assumption--charismatic leadership and effective team production are not antithetical. Both should play a role in managing a creative services firm. Charisma should be used to establish strong corporate loyalty, but without becoming the sole reason for this feeling among the employees. The charisma of a leader can and should help a company develop, but it should not replace creativity and administration as its driving forces.
Loyalty in the mega-firm
The proliferation of mergers and takeovers today poses another interesting problem: How can a mega-firm achieve or maintain staff loyalty when the creative balance of the merged firms seems to have been disrupted? Creative people feel threatened by the prospect of large corporate bureaucracies. But the bureaucracy itself is not the problem. The real problem is in the form of large-scale management style and its effect on loyalty.
It is difficult for an employee to feel any loyalty to a conglomerate and its management. The acquiring company, on the other hand, wants to boost the administration and profitability of the firm it has purchased in order to help pay off the debt it has incurred and to make its investment a profitable one.
The key question is to what extent the buyer should get involved in the affairs of the company it has acquired. To maintain the productivity of a purchased firm, it is necessary, first of all, to maintain corporate loyalty. The best way to do this is to give the firm maximum autonomy in its internal affairs and creative work, while using the buyer's corporate bureaucracy as the overall financial administrator.
Overseeing the acquired firm's finances is important because it broadens its business side, which is often small and run by entrepreneurs, who tend to emphasize client relationships in the interests of getting new accounts. However, financial management should not turn into an additional control. The smaller firm needs room for initiative to keep itself motivated, creative and productive.
Because autonomy is so vital, it is important to acquire solid firms with the ability to manage themselves. Once again, two-way trust is the key. Overall loyalty to the large corporation can be established by avoiding a rigid quest for unity and by making personal contacts with any executives of the new firm. By respecting the expertise and entrepreneurial spirit of the principals of acquired firms, the buyer is actually allowing them to maintain corporate loyalty and productivity, while helping to boost their profit potential through financial management.
While specific techniques for a more effective overall management style in the creative services industry may vary according to the situation, autonomy and freedom of thought are vital to the production of truly original and effective work. Without them, creative talents can be stifled by lack of motivation and/or lack of latitude to work. With them, corporate loyalty will thrive. And it is only through loyalty that a more effective harmony between quality output and efficient administration can be achieved.
Arnold M. Huberman is the president and founder of Arnold Huberman Associates, Inc., in New York.…