Nurturing The Creative Staff

employee retention engineers management project leadership project management scientists tips and tricks Aug 21, 2021

How are you dealing with the three buckets of “frustrations” most engineers and scientists cite as a reason for leaving a job:

1) mundane, daily frustrations;

2) professional frustrations, and

3) management-induced frustrations.

We have surveyed thousands of professionals and unveil the "top frustraters" (and how to fix them) in this week's blog post. Solutions include better tools, an idea greenhouse and more discussions with users. Read the blog post and then add your own observations and solutions there or here or both. Then tell us what we have left out!

“A highly creative team can make or break a company and they require special care and feeding (literally).”

The complaints coming from creative people we have worked with through the years fall into three buckets of “frustrations”: mundane, daily frustrations; professional frustrations, and management-induced frustrations. Let’s look at each one and see how we can prevent it. 

1. Mundane, Daily Frustrations

These include heavy traffic lengthening the daily commute, difficulty finding a parking spot, and not having change for the soft drink machine. So managers, allow people to work from home one day each week. Also encourage carpooling to ease the parking challenge and reward carpoolers with gas money. Lastly, put healthy drinks in the machines and let the company pay for them (select the “coinless” setting in the machines or buy your own machines). One firm we know did this and also keeps a large kitchen fully stocked with instant soups and other fast foods, all free to employees.

2. Professional Frustrations 

Engineers never seem to have requirements that they can use. They always want better requirements. And your engineers do deserve the most solid requirements you can generate, blessed by the end users of the system. So make that happen. Visit multiple users and get the system specification, contract and the requirements aligned. Also, scientists always seem to need better tools and equipment. This gets expensive fast but you should meet their needs whenever it makes good business sense. And do two things here: 1) tie new tools to higher output, faster analyses/studies, etc. and 2) require the scientists to triage their needs so they work on filling the most crucial requirements first.

3. Management-Induced Frustrations
 a. Mismatched expectations, when management thinks they have asked for one thing and the staff provides something different. Usually this is caused by management thinking they have hired mind readers. Managers, be overly thorough in your assignments and get confirmation by asking “Now, what are you going to go do, and why?” You’ll sometimes be amazed at the answer you get!
b. Great inventions and technologies get embedded in devices and a system, but the then the project gets cancelled. Technical/creative types understandably want to see their ideas take wing and launch! So have an ‘idea greenhouse” where orphaned ideas can await a new home. And reward people for planting wild ideas there (a year’s membership in the World Futures Society at or a trip to a super science symposium or a great museum). Let people know you value great ideas, even (especially?) those ideas that are ahead of their time! And to prevent premature death of a project, design your projects as carefully as you design your systems (learn to do this in the Project Leadership course offered by CPL.)
c. Hidden assumptions or unvoiced expectations cause the end user to reject the system. Usually this is because management failed to get user buy-in during the design and development of the system. Remember that just meeting the specifications is not enough - - - management must seek out representative users and get their vocal support for the system as it is being conceived, developed, built and fielded. Anything less is risky.
Lastly, here are some Do’s and Don’ts for leaders managing creative teams:
• Don’t accept problems brought to you by staffers, unless each problem comes with options and a recommendation. This is how you build creative thinkers (and a replacement for yourself).
• Don’t belittle noble failures. Instead, celebrate them with luncheons and rewards (a half-day off, a dinner at a nice restaurant, etc.) Make it a fun thing. Build an accepting environment for new ideas, whether they find a home or not.
• Don’t overlook talent you have within your organization(s). You may have real-world expertise sitting in your organization that you know nothing about. One of our clients has a “Mission Experience Library” of people with military experience. If they need someone familiar with aircraft maintenance, for instance, they can query the database and find that ex-sergeant wrench-turner who can provide input on the new automated technical order system being contemplated. Do the same thing with the hands-on experienced people in your organization: Track them and use their insights.

Take care of the people and the people will take care of the jobs.”

- Source Unknown


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