Sunday, December 28, 2014

How Creative Should You Allow Employees to Be?

Xiaomeng Zhang and Kathryn Bartol wrote in a 2010 article that “given increasingly turbulent environments, heightened competition, and unpredictable technological change, more and more managers are coming to realize that they should encourage their employees to be creative. Considerable evidence indicates that employee creativity can fundamentally contribute to organizational innovation, effectiveness, and survival.”
Creativity doesn’t mean employees relaxing in their chairs, staring at the ceiling and coming up with ‘head-in-the-clouds’ creations that are of absolutely no use to them or the organisation – but they look good on paper. For creativity to take place, employees must take a mature approach to finding effective solutions. There are responsibilities and behaviours that must exist at the leadership level and the employee level for this to be a win-win for everyone.
Zang and Bartol define creativity as “the production of novel and useful ideas by an individual or by a group of individuals working together. For creativity to occur in organizations, managers need to support and promote it, as they are the individuals who are most knowledgeable about which employee work outcomes should be creative and they have considerable influence over the context within which creativity can occur.”
Some of the key behaviours that must be embedded within the organisational culture are; the ability for the leaders and employees to have meaningful and transparent people conversations; employees must be involved in the decision making processes and employees must be empowered to be creative in the first place. These three behaviours alone will have a significant impact on developing a truly creative culture in the organisation.
Studies also have provided evidence for a positive relationship between supportive leadership and creativity, and a negative relationship between controlling leadership and employee creativity (e.g., Amabile et al., 2004; Madjar et al., 2002; Oldham & Cummings, 1996; Tierney & Farmer, 2002, 2004). In considering broader leadership approaches, some studies have shown support for a positive impact of transformational leadership on employee creativity (e.g., Howell & Avolio, 1993; Jung, Chow, & Wu, 2003; Keller, 1992; Shin & Zhou, 2003; Sosik, Kahai, & Avolio, 1998), but others have produced contrary results (e.g., Basu & Green, 1997; Jaussi & Dionne, 2003; Kahai, Sosik, & Avolio, 2003).
Creativity should be taking place in all organisations; at all levels and all of the time – there should be an embedded mind-set that encourages and recognises creativity. There will be some industry sectors where creativity will be the norm, advertising been one, but creativity goes beyond the ‘product’ and looks at all aspects of the business.
According to Ahearne, Mathieu, and Rapp’s (2005) conceptualization, empowering leadership involves highlighting the significance of the work, providing participation in decision making, conveying confidence that performance will be high, and removing bureaucratic constraints. These behaviours are conceptually highly relevant to creativity. For instance, it is clear from the creativity literature that participation in decision making and perceptions of autonomy are vital preconditions for creative outcomes (Amabile, 1988; Amabile et al., 2004). Inherent in the combination of empowering leadership behaviours is delegating authority to an employee, so as to enable the employee to make decisions and implement actions without direct supervision or intervention (Bass, 1985; Jung et al., 2003). Given the nature of creativity, such delegation helps establish a work context wherein an employee is encouraged and empowered to explore diverse creative alternatives before (perhaps) settling on a viable creative solution (Amabile et al., 1996). Zang and Bartol define empowering leadership as the process of implementing conditions that enable sharing power with an employee by delineating the significance of the employee’s job, providing greater decision-making autonomy, expressing confidence in the employee’s capabilities, and removing hindrances to performance.
In an ‘ideal’ organisation, creativity is not something that has to get any special attention – employees are recruited not just for their skills and experiences, but for their instinctive desire to be creative and they then work in departments that have embedded behaviours that support a creative culture and better still have leaders who, not just implement but, recognise creative excellence.
Zhang, X. and Bartol, K.M. (2010). Linking Empowering Leadership and Employee Creativity: The Influence of Psychological Empowerment, Intrinsic Motivation, and Creative Process Engagement. Academy of Management Journal; Vol. 53, Issue 1, p.107-128.

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