Keeping staff happy: a creative manager’s POV

I have been talking to the COO of a digital agency about the special issues that arise when managing a staff of creatives. This is certainly interesting to other creative managers; but job-seekers too will find useful insights and there is good information for staffers aiming for promotions. Part One of this conversation is contained here.

“Without constant revitalization, minds can start to wander,” says Aaron Harvey, Partner/COO of digital agency Purple, Rock, Scissors of Orlando and New York, as we talk about the special issues related to managing creative staff. “If you don’t have a revival on a quarterly basis then people do start to complain. The conversations start very quietly with whispers.”

“The only way to mitigate that,” he says, “is to get involved one-on-one with your employees on a personal basis – so they can let out the things they are thinking and you can do a temperature check and quash the issues before they become a problem. Otherwise unhappiness can spiral out of control very quickly.”

“Information is also key – when people are disconnected strategically – when they don’t understand the direction of the company and are not invested – when thy don’t know about new business pitches, or a new sector the company is pursuing – if they are siloed off – this is a cause of discontent.” He tells me that communication with the staff is “a two-way street. We open up dialog through social space. We have an online area in a Basecamp where we get ideas from staff – but this needs nurturing, sometimes it is active, but sometimes it goes quiet.”

“To motivate better work, we have to play to how they like to do it; give them freedom to get in the zone and not just have to stamp against the clock; give the freedom to work from home or the beach – letting them know that it is due on Friday,” Harvey told me.  As the company grows, things get more complex: “We have to empower mid-level people to find a way that says: If you rock this out for me over the weekend – here’s a little reward.”

Harvey says that he believes there’s an inbred mentality in ad agencies to exploit their employees. “We hire out of school: super-green, super-hungry. We give them the experience and we make them work. We are a deadline driven industry – so when we hire them, we tell them they may have to work a 40-hour week or an 80-hour week – that is the nature of the beast. Every ad agency has a foosball team. I am a major advocate of the bonding that comes with this. It is good to be able to take a break at 6 o’clock and play foosball together. It makes it that much easier to get back to work later.”

Learn what Aaron Harvey had to say about giving promotions and how he recruits new employees in Part Two.