Employees need to be happy, well-rested and free to “fail without consequence” in order to be more creative at work, according to executive coach Cindy Tonkin, who consults with Toyota Financial Services, Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank.
Speaking with Business Insider Australia in advance of her presentation to CommBank’s Wired for Wonder event next week, Tonkin said individuals had to “take responsibility for their own creativity”, but their employers could help by providing the right environment.
CommBank chief information officer Michael Harte has spoken publicly about the bank’s innovative culture on several occasions, telling industry group AIIA in May that CommBank took 7 years to become “innovation-friendly”.
Here are Tonkin’s top tips for boosting creativity:
1. Provide opportunities to experiment, to fail without consequence and to play with ideas and techniques where appropriate. “Clearly there are some places where you cannot play around in finance,” she notes. “When you’ve got my mortgage in your hands, I certainly do not want you experimenting!”
2. Pay attention to people. “I can say that there are some brilliant things going on behind the scenes to get insights into customer wants and turning these into a viable product,” she says.
“Collecting and analysing the data we have helps us get to the right customers at the right time with the right product. There is plenty of strategising, thinking and play going on in these kind of areas.”
3. Think outside the box. Tonkin recommends switching off your email and phone and doing something outside your comfort zone.
“Managers can give every team member the opportunity to examine what they do and how they do it, and to be creative about how that happens,” she says.
“Every team has an offsite strategy or a planning day. These do not have to be talk-fests with PowerPoint slides, they can be more innovative, creative and inspiring and give teams opportunities to be inspired and get to the same outcomes differently.”
4. Get enough rest and be happier. Organisations can’t force employees to get more sleep, but managers can help their teams unwind and teach them to manage time more effectively, Tonkin says.
“Happier people are more creative. We can help make that happen,” she says.
“Every manager, can help their teams unwind, give them the skills they need to manage their time and their workload more effectively, encourage them to take lunch, work out, and deal with their interpersonal issues.”
5. Set better KPIs. Tonkin says managers need to tailor performance metrics to individuals, the type of work they do and organisational outcomes.
In a 2005 experiment, Duke University professor Dan Ariely found that large bonuses could boost performance for simple, manual labour, but not for more challenging work like working on complex financial products.
“You cannot set KPIs and expect everyone to have the same set,” Tonkin says. “KPIs can and must be changed when you discover unintended consequences and perverse incentives stemming from them. Essentially [we should be as] creative around how we set KPIs as much as we are around reaching them.”
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