Herding Cats: A Control Freak’s Guide to Managing Creative People

Herding Cats: A Control Freak’s Guide to Managing Creative People

Maybe you’re looking to develop the next technology innovation, a new product that will make customers rave, or just a new packaging design. Whether you’re in advertising, technology, retail or manufacturing, creative employees can be crucial for helping you meet your goals. But creatives can walk to a different beat than your traditional employees, requiring business owners to adopt a different management style.

Some creative people can be “moody, erratic, eccentric and arrogant,” according to the Harvard Business Review. But the most creative workers are also the ones who can bring innovation and growth to your company. Rather than stifling them, try managing them creatively.

Here are five ways to do that:

Allow Freedom—Within Boundaries

Most creative people have their own process for developing ideas or concepts, and if it works well for them, try to leave it alone. However, that process has to fit within business realities. Business owners or managers can help by simply hanging a calendar and noting when certain stages of a project must be complete or when feedback will be provided, as Evan Fry, executive director of creative development at ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, suggested to Co.Create.

Focus on Teamwork

Because creative folks often take such ownership of their ideas and projects, being asked to make changes can feel like a personal attack. That’s why it’s important to emphasize the team concept, writes Nelson Rodriguez, vice president of global marketing for Aquent in Entrepreneur. Remind your employees that everyone is working toward the same goal, and that the ideas and projects they create at work are for the sake of the company.

When changes are needed, don’t attack their work or their ideas—simply suggest ways that “we” could change it to help the company move closer to our goal.

Encourage Open Communication

If you really want your creative teams to be successful, you need to be willing to communicate your expectations and feedback—and also be willing to listen to the ideas, frustrations, and feedback of your creative employees as well. Everyone on the team must be able to be completely candid, writes Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull in his book, “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” (Random House, 2014).

Large, creative projects need the intelligence of everyone on the team, but that intelligence isn’t accessible unless everyone is contributing their best.

Keep it Interesting

Creative people love to stretch their creative muscles. They often find that doing the same thing day after day is boring—and sometimes even unbearable. But the best managers understand that their most creative employees need to actually be creating, and regularly assign them to new projects or ask them for help solving complicated problems.

If creative employees have their own idea for a project they’d like to pursue and it doesn’t interfere with other work, let them go for it. Keeping your creative employees engaged can also keep them using their talents to help you grow your business.

Nancy Mann Jackson

About the Author


A content marketing writer and editorial freelancer since 2001, Nancy Mann Jackson specializes in writing about personal finance, insurance, careers, education and small business.

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