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This article was published on November 15, 2017

You need to woo talent creatively, not just financially

You need to woo talent creatively, not just financially
Martijn van Tilburg
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Martijn van Tilburg

Martijn van Tilburg is the CEO and founder of 10,000ft, a resource management tool that helps companies breed transparency, autonomy, and im Martijn van Tilburg is the CEO and founder of 10,000ft, a resource management tool that helps companies breed transparency, autonomy, and improve strategic real-time decisions. Previously he was Director of Design at Seattle firm Artefact and an award-winning designer at Microsoft.

When you got a job 50 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to stay with that company for your entire career, gradually moving up the corporate ladder. But these days, people change jobs every two years; even in some of today’s most successful companies.

I’ve talked with hundreds of talented job applicants over the past five years as my company grows and I’m always surprised by how many people are searching for more creativity in their careers.

No matter how many perks and benefits a company piles on, something’s still missing. Employees want something more. People are craving autonomy, creativity, and a compelling purpose in their work. Organizations need to support these deeper motivations if they want to attract and retain top talent.

What changed?

The workplace has changed dramatically in recent years. Advancements in social collaboration and automation tools have enabled self-organization and more project-based work among teams.

Broad adoption of these technologies is helping high performing companies automate process-driven work and encourage collaboration and autonomy. “Yet, many organizations continue to operate according to industrial-age models that are 100 years old or more, weighed down by legacy practices, systems, and behaviors,” according to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends Report. These antiquated models “must be confronted and discarded before true change takes hold.”

The problem may be as simple as having too much structure. Organizations have created strict processes and guidelines around everything they do. In their quest to perfect efficiencies, corporate leaders have reduced creative work down to an assembly line of simple, repeatable, and boring procedural tasks.

Creative talent has responded accordingly. The gig economy has paved the way for creative individuals to provide specialized services to organizations without getting stuck in the mire of bureaucracy.

“The creative economy is driven by the logic that seeks to fully harness — and no longer waste — human resources and talent,” writes Richard Florida, in Rise of the Creative Class. And it’s fundamentally changed what motivates employees in the modern workplace.

How to promote creativity at work

Most organizations give their employees tasks. There’s a defined process to follow; a repeatable task list to ensure both quality and efficiency at every level. But these tasks may as well be handcuffs to creative talent.

At 10,000ft, we use a methodology called Outcomes Based Planning; a project-based approach to work that allows our team members to work autonomously towards their goals within a set of constraints. Outcomes Based Planning requires four things:

1. A project-based mindset.

By framing work as projects, you elevate your employees to a more strategic level. This allows them to self-organize and encourages collaboration to find innovative solutions to complex problems.

2. Outcome-oriented goals

Project goals need to be high level and non-prescriptive to encourage creativity in coming up with solutions towards that outcome. We use a variety of exercises, like the 5 Whys, to help define these high-level project goals. It’s also important to align the project goals align with your company’s overall business strategy, so team members understand how they are contributing to the bigger picture.

3. Defined investment criteria

Often, investment is defined by budget items like time and money, but also consider the strategic significance of the project and your teams’ collective abilities. Do they have the knowledge and skills to reach the outcome, or will it require additional resources? What’s the strategic significance of the project, and how much are you willing to invest in the outcome? Communicate these types of constraints up front, so your team understands the boundaries in which they can work.

4. Talent

When the success of a project rests on the shoulders of your talent, you can’t overlook the importance of hiring and supporting creative individuals with a wide range of expertise. We focus on hiring T-shaped individuals. That is, people who have deep subject matter expertise to support our business strategy, and a wide breadth of knowledge that overlaps with other team members. This ensures we’re all speaking the same language without falling victim to groupthink.

This approach can be applied in all industries; not only creative ones. As automation continues to take over our procedural tasks, work will increasingly require open-ended problem-solving. Creativity is a competitive advantage for organizations of all sizes, in every industry, and Outcomes Based Planning is one way to enable it.

Money alone won’t keep your talent

Money is a means to an end. At the most basic level, employees need their employer to provide a salary that covers their survival needs: food, shelter, and safety. Once they reach a level that supports their desired lifestyle, however, salary matters much less.

To engage and retain the modern workforce, you have to make creativity a fundamental part of everyday work. Highly skilled individuals want to flex their creative muscles and put their stake in the ground. They may still prefer the safety and security of working within an organization, but money won’t motivate them to stay if you’re stifling their creativity.

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