This story is a guest contribution from Design Pickle, a global creative enablement platform providing thousands of businesses with access to high-quality creative talent at a flat monthly rate.
Ask any employee, in any organization, what matters most to them. Chances are company culture is near the top of their list. On the flip side, ask candidates why they’re looking for other opportunities. Culture’s likely on their list, too.
There are different kinds of company cultures — but the most creative cultures tend to be the ones that thrive. We’ll dive into why creativity matters so much to engagement and retention, and how you can foster a culture where it’s second-nature.
1. Create a judgment-free environment.
Creativity is often thought of as an elusive beast, sought when you need it the most. Every role and department can benefit from creativity, and everyone is creative. So how do you encourage this elusive word to be part of everyday culture?
The answer is simple: Create an environment free of judgment. No matter what department you’re in, hosting regular creative brainstorming sessions that foster this environment will help people feel connected, generate new ideas and solutions, and encourage creativity.
Typically, these types of sessions are most productive and enjoyable with some ground rules. While you don’t want to restrict anyone, setting the standard that no idea is a bad idea will help the team feel free to ideate and create. Unless it is iterative, no direct feedback is allowed.
A successful creative brainstorm starts with fun activities, designed to get the team loose and in the mindset of what you’re trying to accomplish. At Design Pickle, we started last month’s marketing team brainstorming session with a mock Shark Tank competition — but with a twist. Teams were given five random words they had to incorporate into their product and pitches, and the results did not disappoint. “Chonky Pet Clothing” earned the “investment” (in this case, an Amazon gift card) and plenty of laughs.
Once the team is relaxed, have some prompts ready to go based on the problems you’re trying to solve. Remember, you don’t want these too structured — the session will lose its effectiveness and become absorbed by the rigidity seen in other meetings. Rather, create prompts that guide thinking in a practical way, but still let people explore outside-the-box. A great example is, “If you could start any project without budgetary or logistical constraints, what would it be?”
Bonus tip: Appoint a notetaker to capture all of the ideas that come about during your creative brainstorms. After, you’ll have a whole library of ideas you can implement (or laugh at together!) today, tomorrow, or a year from now.
2. Bring creativity into your values.
Core values should guide all touchpoints at a company. To take it a step further, seek ways to encourage creativity through your core values.
Creating exercises and touchpoints to do this is the challenging part. To start, think about ways to engage employees beyond the normal touchpoints. Do you have monthly all-hands meetings focused on business happenings? Consider adding a quarterly all-hands meeting that leans on connection and why core values matter more than financials or staffing.
If you have employees around the country (or even the globe), live streaming this type of event and using a dedicated Slack channel can make employees feel as though they are part of something bigger, and that their ideas are being heard. Encourage the live stream host to read comments in real time, ask questions, and give team shout outs along the way.
To go a little further outside the box, consider hosting a once-a-year event strictly for fun. Design Pickle has team members around the world, so a company-wide holiday party is out of the question. This past year, we decided to host a talent show called Picklevision (our own spoof of Eurovision) to encourage and highlight the global team’s creativity, which kicked off with a review of our core values from our CEO, Russ Perry.
The result? Four hours of astonishing, mind-blowing talent and content. Not only did the team learn about how many team members are musically-inclined, but the participating team members were able to showcase their talents outside of their day-to-day design and illustration skills.
Simply put, consistently reminding the team of your company’s core values is essential. But, to make an even bigger impact, weave these reminders into larger, more fun-focused events that encourage and inspire everyone to be their best creative selves.
3. Leverage internal branding.
If you’re a branding expert or creative director, you’ve likely thought about ways to use internal branding across your company. While this concept is not new, there is more and more data (including this article from Harvard Business Review) surfacing around how internal branding increases employee engagement.
Employees need to feel like what they are doing on a daily basis ties back to the greater company, and the brand is a huge part of that.
Think about a company virtual happy hour. This is a great way to connect with people, particularly if your company is fully remote. But how can you level it up to include your own brand? It can be as simple as giving the happy hours a name or their own branded logo, but weaving your brand throughout the experience will create consistency and connection to the greater company goals long-term.
At Design Pickle, every event we do — whether it’s as big as a week of leadership training or as small as a team creative brainstorm — uses company branding. For us, this means using our Pickle mascot every chance we get, but there are other ways to do this.
What might normally be called leadership training was branded as Big Pickle Week. While the content was focused on diversity and inclusion, hiring processes, and conflict resolution, the overarching theme of the week was “Big Pickle Energy” — encouraging our leadership team to be confident in their decisions and use radical candor.
Each participating team member received a “Big Pickle Energy” shirt, a notebook, and a Design Pickle green pen to take that brand touchpoint even further. Each time a team member wears that t-shirt, they are inevitably reminded of the week’s learnings, tying it all back to the greater purpose.
Everyone is creative, and every company has the potential to be creative. How you bring that concept to life is up to your core values, your brand, and the type of environment you create, even if that includes a Eurovision spoof. And remember: No idea is a bad idea.