Are Your Creatives Making You Cranky? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I head up one of several R&D teams at a global consumer goods company. My team is amazing—brilliant, eccentric, creative, fun people who are blowing away their goals. (It takes a certain type of person to be good at what we do.)

Here is my problem. Some of my folks are good at the basics—showing up on time for meetings, submitting expenses, dressing appropriately, filling out paperwork, etc. But the others not so much. I am constantly on them to comply with the bare minimum of what is required to operate in this large system. Case in point: conducting performance reviews.

I know some managers who can throw all the rules to the wind and allow their creatives to operate as they please, but I just can’t do it. I have spoken to my own boss and my peers to get some ideas about how to get people to toe the line, but they all just laugh and say I’ll figure it out. I don’t have kids but I am starting to feel like a parent. It is making me really…


Dear Cranky,

Presumably, you manage these people because you are one of them.  Are you not eccentric and creative yourself? How did the person previously in your position handle this problem? You must have leadership skills to have been so attractive to the best. Your people are doing well because you have created an environment in which they can thrive—and yet, you have also led them to think that they can get away with, well, acting like children.

Something you are doing—possibly not having proper boundaries—is sending the wrong signal. Henry Cloud is an expert on this. You may want to take a look at his work.

I am married to an eccentric creative, I manage a bunch of wildly creative people, and I am a parent. And still, my least strong suit is getting people to do tedious stuff they have to do, so I really do feel your pain. I must be clear, concise and relentless about what is necessary. Repetition and reminders without judgment are helpful. And however strong the temptation might be, I do not shield other adults from the consequences of their choices.

Your job as a manager is to clearly inform your people of the consequences of not complying with requirements. Putting a time limit on getting the performance review done might work: if something isn’t done in a certain time frame, they don’t get a raise. You may have already thought of this. I know with my huge team, we have finally resorted to not paying expenses that are submitted more than 30 days after the event. That works for some, but others just don’t care about money.

Another idea is to go to HR and see what special dispensation you might be able to get for your team. It may not be possible, but I know a lot of the large global companies are trying to be more flexible about these things. Maybe you could be a pilot program for some new, easier methods in this area.

Finally, leverage the genius of your team. Put this conundrum in front of them to solve. This is not your problem alone. It is draining you now and will begin to drain the energy of your team soon as well. Let them apply some of their brilliance and creativity—maybe even some old-fashioned peer pressure—to shift this situation.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!


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