Manage and Retain Creative Talent with These 5 Strategies

An employee with creative talent draws on a tablet at a pale wooden desk. She wears an olive-green sweater vest with brown buttons. She has short dark hair, tattooed arms, numerous rings on her hands, and dark nail polish. Next to her tablet is an open notebook with drawings in it. A pen lies on the desktop. Multiple drawings are posted on the wall behind her, and the desk is flanked by large houseplants.

Talent shortage in creative roles is real and pressing, bringing employee retention to the forefront of effective managerial strategy. Because disrespect, lack of flexibility, and underwhelming benefits are major reasons workers quit their jobs in 2021,1 leaders must give even greater attention to the management of employees in creative teams—the innovators and creatives whose ideas drive organizational growth.

According to a 2012 Adobe study, more than 80% of people believe creativity is critical to economic growth.2 A Forbes panel about hiring for creative roles indicates that creativity is perceived as a desirable personality characteristic.3 In fact, people find creativity so desirable that it’s often subject to what psychologists call the better-than-average effect, which occurs when individuals consistently rate themselves better than average along desirable qualities. Despite the importance of innovation in business, few organizations and fewer managers seem to understand what it takes to keep their creative people happy and productive.

What Is a Creative Personality?

The creativity crisis, which was predicted in 2004,4 has come to fruition. Between high unemployment and a labor shortage, attracting and retaining talent is a challenge for many organizations.5 Creative employees are essential to company innovation, so it’s important to understand their personalities.

Psychologists from the Hogan data science team compared 360-degree feedback data with personality data measured using three personality assessments:

  1. The Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) measures people’s everyday strengths and weaknesses.
  2. The Hogan Development Survey (HDS) measures strengths that people overuse under increased stress or pressure.
  3. The Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI) measures the core drivers that determine what people desire and what they are willing to work for.

Individuals who scored higher in Ambition, Sociability, and Inquisitive (HPI); Bold, Mischievous, and Colorful (HDS); and Power (MVPI) were more likely to be identified by peers, direct managers, and clients as innovative. Conversely, those who scored higher in Excitable, Cautious, Diligent, and Dutiful (HDS); and Security (MVPI) were less likely to be identified as having an innovative reputation at work.


A Profile of the Creative Employee

Drs. Robert Hogan and John Morrison described the creative personality in practical terms in their chapter “Managing Creativity.”6

Creative, innovative people tend to be

  • open to new experiences,
  • skilled at organizing and evaluating information gleaned from a variety of sources,
  • able to easily produce an abundance of ideas,
  • concerned with their performative adequacy, and
  • motivated to prove themselves.

These qualities may make creatives sound like ideal employees—but here’s the rub. Hogan research shows that creative people tend to be idealistic, nonconforming, and unconcerned about money, which can make them the bane of managers, who tend to be stable, practical, and concerned with maintaining order and controlling costs.

From a psychological perspective, creative and managerial personalities can seem predisposed not to understand one another. Organizational priorities about positive creativity and innovation mean that managers and creative people need each other to succeed.

5 Keys to Managing Creatives

Here are five imperatives for leaders to provide to ensure they are properly managing their creative teams and driving innovation.

1.    Freedom and Flexibility

Creative employees need time, space, and resources to innovate.

The bottom line here is not to constrain your creative employees by forcing them to follow processes or conform to structures. Social psychologist Teresa Amabile interviewed 46 managers of North American corporate R&D groups, asking them about examples of high and low creativity in their laboratories.7 The most frequently cited obstacles to creativity included employees’ lack of control over their own work and lack of freedom in deciding what to do or how to do it. Also mentioned were lack of time, lack of resources, and poor project management.

On the other hand, creativity is enhanced by more freedom and flexibility at work. According to The Wall Street Journal, today’s talent may value flexible work arrangements and other perks even more than compensation.8 Consequently, managers can encourage innovation among creative employees by letting them work remotely and outside of normal business hours.

Managers should also refrain from demanding an account of their employees’ creative methods because those are likely to rely on unstructured, irreplicable spontaneity. Rather, creatives should be evaluated by the quality of their innovative work products.

2.    Conventional Colleagues

Innovators work best alongside colleagues who are just the right quality of “boring”—too conventional to challenge ideas yet unconventional enough to collaborate with.

Creative employees flourish with independence, not required group work with other creatives. Data from Hogan psychologists affirm that innovative individuals are driven by the desire for success and control. They can display above-average drive and competitiveness. Thus, when two or more creatives are forced to collaborate, they tend to compete for ideas or keep them to themselves.

Independence, however, is not the same as isolation. Creative people also need stimulation from coworkers who appreciate and nurture their ideas without competition. The key to supporting creative individuals at work is by building a diverse team in which they can thrive. Creative teams that perform the most effectively have a mix of creative members and those who pay more attention to details and processes.

3.    Meaningful Motivation

Rather than offer only monetary rewards, motivate creatives with meaningful work.

Monetary reward systems are poor drivers of performance among creative individuals. Studies from Edward Deci and Richard Ryan show that offering “controlled motivation,” such as money, decreases intrinsic motivation and self-determination.9 People who received money to read magazines or solve puzzles did so for a shorter time than people who acted for enjoyment, for instance.

Hogan research shows that innovators tend to have more vision than less creative personalities do. Because creatives see the bigger picture and consider why things matter, they can be reluctant to engage in meaningless work. Managers who demonstrate a link between work, meaning, and values can build intrinsic motivation in creative employees.

4.    Concrete Goals

Collaborate with your creative employees to set reasonable goals and deadlines.

In their chapter, Hogan and Morrison discuss the need for good goal setting. One of their interview subjects, a vice president for research and development at a computer manufacturing firm, recommended this approach: ask researchers what they thought they could accomplish in a certain timeframe, then support their efforts and keep them on track.

Given that creatives are motivated by adequacy, goals should be tied to performance and supported with clear, credible feedback. Likewise, since creatives prefer to control the means by which they accomplish tasks, deadlines should be largely determined by the innovator and approved by the manager.

5.    Good Management

In the end, the factors that negatively impact creativity are the result of poor management. Organizations need to recognize the importance of personality in leaders too. Personality assessments can inform hires and promotions into management roles, and leadership development opportunities help managers become more aware of how their reports might perceive them so they can lead more effectively.

Managers who are unable to build and maintain productive relationships with creative individuals, set clear performance expectations, or give clear or credible feedback, for example, could cause innovators to simply walk away. Leaders who cannot create the nonevaluative atmosphere described by Amabile as fostering the freedom to fail will stifle or alienate creatives to the detriment of the entire organization. In a climate where 84% of CEOs view innovation as critical to growth but only 6% are satisfied with their innovation performance, maximizing the creative potential of innovators is an essential managerial skill.10

If you are interested in more information about using personality assessments to identify and develop leaders who understand how to manage and retain creative talent, get in touch with us today.


1. Parker, K., & Horowitz, J. M. (2022, March 9). Majority of Workers Who Quit a Job in 2021 Cite Low Pay, No Opportunities for Advancement, Feeling Disrespected. Pew Research Center.

2. Adobe Systems Incorporated. (2012, April 23). Study Reveals Global Creativity Gap [Press release].

3. Forbes Agency Council Expert Panel. (2021, January 8). How to Hire for Creative Roles: 12 Unique Traits of the Best Candidates. Forbes.

4. Florida, R. (2004, October). America’s Looming Creativity Crisis. Harvard Business Review.

5. Sanandaji, T., Monte, F., Ham, A., & Tarki A. (2021, June 14). Attracting Talent During a Worker Shortage. Harvard Business Review.

6.Hogan, R., & Morrison, J. (1996). Managing Creativity. In A. Montouri (Ed.), Unusual Associates (pp. 344-351). Hampton Press.

7. Amabile, T. M. (1983). The Social Psychology of Creativity: A Componential Conceptualization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(2), 357-376.

8. Broughton, K. (2022, March 1). Companies Try to Limit Salary Bumps and Focus on Perks Instead. The Wall Street Journal.

9. O’Hara, D. (2017, December 18). The Intrinsic Motivation of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci. American Psychological Association.

10. Growth and Innovation. (n.d.). McKinsey & Company.