Creativity: Why does it matter and is it fostered in our workplace?
Whenever we talk about organisational success, we always shine a spotlight on the concept of 'productivity' while completely overlooking the significance of 'creativity'. The reason is rather obvious: it is easy to quantify how productivity contributes to success. The more efficient the employees, the more impressive the bottom line. Productivity plays a pivotal role in achieving business goals; however, relying solely on productivity will not guarantee lasting success.
In today's innovation-driven economy, creativity not only enables companies to navigate crises effectively but also empowers them to gain a competitive edge in the cutthroat business landscape. This is a key reason why multimillion-dollar companies are embracing creativity in offices and cultivating it from within. Let's take a closer look at how creativity is viewed in our workplaces and how leaders can nurture this invaluable trait among their employees.
Do our leaders encourage creativity?
Leaders recognise that a business emerges from the crucible of innovative ideation. However, as operations commence, they often get caught up in the fray of routine tasks and lose sight of the importance of out-of-the-box thinking.
Bayezid Hasan, who recently joined Coca-Cola Bangladesh as the Head of Supply Chain Finance and Financial Planning and Analytics (with prior experience as the Senior Finance Manager at Unilever), says that there exists a mixed landscape when it comes to the encouragement of creativity in our workplace. According to him, leaders prioritise the achievement of company goals but do not hold their employees back from embracing their creative instincts. "Employees must decide how to attain those goals: either stick to the tried-and-true old-school methods or go all out with novel approaches," he adds.
Is creativity equally relevant to all roles?
Creativity can take on various meanings depending on the specific job and role within an organisation. Bayezid, drawing from his experience in financial planning and analytics, remarks, "For a finance person, creative thinking could mean developing innovative financial products, conducting thorough scenario analyses before making investment choices, and so much more — even though finance and creativity may seem like an unlikely pair."
Sazid Al Kabir, a Territory Officer at Banglalink, shared that the key responsibility in his position involves managing sales operations. He is aware that many sales professionals may think that their work lacks creative opportunities, feeling like they are just executing a top-down strategy. He adds, "A sales professional can hit major milestones only if he can understand the psyche of his customers and launch unique campaigns that resonate with them."
By and large, creativity is treated differently depending on the sector that an employee works in. It is highly relevant to departments like sales and marketing, whereas other domains, such as accounting, may inherently offer limited opportunities for creative exploration.
How to promote creativity in the workplace?
In Bangladesh, a growing number of leaders have come to acknowledge the value of new ideas. But they often struggle with how to actually bring out the creativity in their employees. Thus, here are six strategies you can employ to create a culture where creativity thrives.
Make creativity a priority
It cannot be denied that the responsibility for cultivating a creative culture lies squarely with the leaders. As such, top-level management should strongly and vocally champion this idea of fostering a creativity-influenced workplace. Bayezid adds, "Leaders should embody the principle of creativity through their communications and actions so that employees are inspired to emulate creative endeavours."
Give employees autonomy
To unlock a company's most important asset—its creative capital—managers need to grasp the importance of setting targets while avoiding micromanagement. Sazid had previously worked at a place where rigid guidelines dictated every course of action, which, according to him, "only stifled the creative flow and resulted in a diminished individual contribution". He adds that he has a level of autonomy in his current role, where he has the authority to design his work independently, free from constant supervision.
Facilitate cross-functional brainstorming
It should be management's mission to encourage collaboration among teams with diverse skills and strengths. Because innovation is more likely to happen when people of different disciplines, backgrounds, and areas of expertise share their thinking. "When I worked for a marketing agency," Sazid reminisced, "We would gather a cross-functional team of 10 to 12 people, including marketers, interns, and designers, to devise blended strategies for boosting sales at client restaurants."
Encourage upward communication
Hierarchical structures with multiple layers often hinder idea exchange, thereby impeding creativity within organisations. To foster an environment conducive to creative thinking, managers must encourage open communication and active participation from employees at all levels. Bayezid shares that his previous employer demonstrated a commitment to this principle by arranging a monthly event where any employee could directly ask questions to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Arrange idea competitions
Another way to provide intellectual challenge and inspire creative output is by arranging various idea competitions. By creating a platform where employees can submit their ideas and compete for recognition and rewards, organisations foster a culture of innovation and engagement. Both Bayezid and Sazid noted that many companies now host multiple intra-organisational idea competitions for their employees from time to time, which are great for bringing in new ideas while also being good team-building exercises.
While creativity requires a hands-off approach, it does not mean management's behaviour makes no difference. As Sazid points out, appreciation shown by supervisors for employees' creative endeavours can serve as a great motivator. Leaders must also take note that when employees try out new things—with their company's best interests in mind—they should not face harsh penalties if they make a mistake the first time around, as such negative reactions will discourage others.
In the event of unsuccessful attempts, Bayezid suggests that employees prepare a knowledge repository so that others can avoid making the same mistake in the future. "Also, before going all-in on an idea, employees must check in with their line manager to ensure that the same idea has not been attempted previously," he suggests.
All in all, our leaders must go beyond simply pulling the stops from creative thinking and instead take proactive steps to actively promote it among their teams. Even though creativity may be hard to demystify, it has a direct impact on business performance. Business success may not be guaranteed but what is guaranteed is that a business will face problems sooner or later, and when that happens, leaders will need creativity more than just getting things done efficiently.