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Are Your Leaders Ready for Creativeship?

Published Friday Dec 21, 2018

Author Bob Kelleher

Are Your Leaders Ready for Creativeship?

The historical definition of leadership has been carted off and tossed in the “no longer needed” dumpster, along with the CD player, help wanted newspaper ads, corner video stores, traditional job descriptions, and employee service award programs.

Leadership originally morphed from the management of things, data, and process to the ability to lead people, build fellowship, and make money. But this archaic definition of leadership is so yesterday. Today, leadership is about “creativeship”—the creation of sustainable cultures and business models.

Creativeship allows a business to compete and thrive in this world of unprecedented technological advances, globalization, shifting economic drivers, government intervention, changing workforce demographics, vastly different motivational drivers with Gen X and Gen Y and the emergence of corporate social responsibility as a motivational driver.

To be sustainable, firms should shift their leadership model to creativeship and invest energy and resources in six prominent and overlapping business priorities: Purpose, engagement, performance, innovation, branding, and growth. And the best part? Human Resources professionals are in a unique position to lead this evolution.

Organizations need to articulate both their “what we do” and “why we do it.” A firm’s employment value proposition needs to identify its “why” if it wants to retain, attract and hire the best employees of tomorrow. Socially conscious organizations, driven by improving the world, outperform those solely committed to beating the competition.

Much has been written about Generation Y (the Millennium generation) being a purpose generation. A parallel trend is the increasing role Baby Boomers are playing in leading and initiating corporate social responsibility activities as they push their employers to donate to charities, reduce their carbon footprint, and support volunteerism. After years of focusing on wealth accumulation and climbing the corporate ladder, boomers are re-focusing their priorities.

According to Gallup research, companies with high engagement levels are more than 200 percent more profitable than organizations with low engagement levels. More leadership teams are asking their HR and organizational development staff to build engaged workforces.

Successful initiatives will link engagement efforts to high performance while minimizing employee satisfaction goals. The last thing you want is a team of satisfied but underperforming employees. Employee satisfaction might be an outcome of a great culture, but it shouldn’t be the goal. Think of engagement as the unlocking of employee potential to drive high performance. Helping employees reach their potential requires organizations to shift away from the traditional static job descriptions and create descriptions that are fluid and captures the intrinsic motivational drivers of their employees. Creativeship is about developing a job match where you link what an employee is great at, what they love to do, and what needs to get done.

Creating sustainable cultures of performance at both the company and individual level is key. Not long ago, a well-known internet company announced it was rewarding all of its employees with a 10 percent pay increase. Over time, this decision will erode performance and create disengagement. There is no incentive for employees to be high performers when mediocrity is rewarded in kind. Firms must avoid this peanut butter approach to compensation (spreading it around evenly so everyone gets an equal share).

Creating cultures of innovation fosters both engagement and sustainability. Companies fail when they cease evolving their product or service, or internal processes.

Why did the founders of Netflix, Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings, see the vision of streaming video before Blockbuster?  Why didn’t Polaroid see the emergence of digital photography? These are all examples of great leaders and great companies leading their organizations for today and not creating cultures of sustainability. Creating cultures of innovation and sustainability requires investing today’s cash to discover tomorrow’s new technologies, products, services, geographies, and approaches.

To create sustainable cultures and business models, companies need build tenacious customer brand loyalty and passion by using social media as a branding tool. Think Apple.

They build cool technological products and hire technically cool people who are avid Apple consumers themselves. But also key is the brand loyalty of their customers, who have a compulsive need to speak about and brand Apple products.

Companies should be leveraging social media to boost brand awareness, blog job openings, tweet recent wins, post upcoming product launches, all the while sharing what a great employer you are. It is where your next generation of customers and employee live.

Human Resources departments need to establish policies that facilitate and not block the use of social media.

Certainly former employees and customers, not to mention applicants and other key stakeholders, are embracing social media to brand companies. Sites such as are increasingly popular with departing employees who feel their companies did not treat them fairly.

Malcolm Gladwell highlights in his bestselling book, The Tipping Point, the importance of “connectors”—employees and others who know how to get things done, know your organizations’ key players, and are the people most connected with other people. In the world of social media, connectors are your brand ambassadors.

The old business adage, “Grow or Die” is at the core of creativeship. In this era of globalization and technological advances, companies need to understand that they will perish if they don’t evolve, grow, expand, and morph. For every one Levi Straus (producing the same product the same way for 100 years), there are 100 companies that become extinct because they don’t grow or evolve.

Companies that are local need to think regional; companies that are regional need to think national; companies that are national need to think global. As Thomas Friedman points out in The World is Flat, technology is creating a level playing field regardless of where you produce your product or perform your service. At the employee level, creativeship is about creating cultures of personal growth and development. Recent studies show that Gen Y’ers are three times more motivated by career development opportunities than financial rewards.

Bob Kelleher is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and founder and president of The Employee Engagement Group. For more information visit

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