Are you doing your personal work?

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

I remember a few years back, when I was running a development studio here in Paris, the subject of personal work came up while we were discussing company, team and personal goals. Each of us had professional objectives that were more or less clear, but as a manager I lacked clarity when it came to the personal stuff. One thing became clear, salary is not enough of a motivator for genuine talent. I needed to look beyond the company’s needs and embrace the individual’s also. In order to differentiate our studio, to attract and retain talent, we needed to make a shift into a new way of working with creatives.

My goal was to create an environment where people could grow and develop personally as well as professionally. To do that, we had to start encouraging the team to bring their outside inside. Put simply, you have to develop people before projects — great people who will, in turn, create fantastic projects. You can’t develop anything meaningful without some degree of personal growth.

During my time as a freelance animator in London, a friend/co-worker at the time impressed upon me the importance of developing a personal style, contending that if you do your “personal” work, it will positively impact on your professional work.

It’s not something that we can manage from the outside, but if the individual makes an effort to bring their external goals into a company, managers can help along the way. Also, it can lead to some excellent opportunities for all concerned. John Doerr talks about finding a compromise somewhere between the company’s objectives and key results and the individual’s.

John Doerr — Ideas are easy, execution is everything.

To build a great team working in content development, you need to empower individuals with agency which will lead to autonomous talent who trust each other and the process put in place. Sounds great, doesn’t? So how do you get there? Here are some effective practices that I stumbled across over the years that seem to help.

Getting there:

1) Establish what success will look like for you before you start. There is too much focus on the “what if’s” during early-stage development. If the team goal is clear, then you can begin to see how the personal goals of its members can be incorporated. Otherwise, your project can easily get hijacked by an unforeseen personal agenda.

2) Fail fast and move on. It seems obvious, but many people prefer to keep whipping a dead horse rather than declaring it DOA. As creatives, we are programmed to be optimistic — often to a fault — so we need systems in place to make sure we do useful work. The team should have permission to try things that might not ultimately work. In fact, the most significant shifts or leaps forward are often born from bold destruction. It helps your team to feel safe and take risks and allows them to grow. If it’s clear that a bold new idea doesn’t work, kill it and move on.

3) Self-esteem is not immediately apparent from the outside. Being loud does not mean a person is confident, and an introvert may be full of confidence in their abilities, but you might not see that right away. However, low self-esteem is something that many creative people suffer from, and it can cause conflict and stress in a team situation. While the workplace should not be a hotspot for self-esteem seekers (it is a place to get work done,after all), the lack thereof is something we can acknowledge and begin to manage. It starts with assuring team members that the project is not a representation of who we are as people. If the project fails, it does not mean we are failures as individuals.

4) Public Speaking is a significant source of stress for people in our industry. And when I say “public,” I don’t mean a TED Talk. Think more like addressing a group of four or five people in a meeting. Our communication options become limited when addressing groups and can slow things down. Video and audio are great tools, and the clearer and more structured your message, the more natural the flow of information. The easiest way to transfer knowledge is face to face, so you want to help people structure their ideas and have the tools to present them. Encourage open sharing and positive critical debate.

Violet — Afraid of public speaking

5) Working in a group can be very useful, but unstructured group work is often a waste of time. The loudest voices hijack the sessions and some of the more timid members remain unheard. So we must have a process and systems in place that allow groups to work effectively. Sometimes the best group work happens when we are together, but working alone. One technique, in the design thinking tool box, is the Design Sprint. During this four or five day process there are many tasks that are worked on individually in a group. After these steps are completed, each member shares their work. This gives everyone a voice and encourages even the loudest voices to practice listening.

Design Sprint explainer

6) The software we use is evolving at an incredible speed, and there are significant shifts as companies are always looking for ways to produce more for less money. So it’s important to help employees keep us up to speed, even if they are currently employed by you and using different technology. This additional training can foster career options and evolution and further incentivize your studio team. By being transparent about your goals (helping them learn more to make your pipeline more efficient), you give the team the opportunity to develop a pathway for you to get there.

7) Bottling up fear and worry on the management side can be a huge obstacle in the studio. It may be difficult to share your concerns with a team, but to keep the process moving, you need to do it. A great way to get the conversation started is to encourage a weekly wreck-and-check to see where everyone is at and invite people to talk about what they are struggling with, then lean on the group experience to find a solution. Reducing fear and restoring balance on a team benefits everyone.

Creating an environment where personal development and growth flourish is a genuine competitive advantage. Doing your personal work is not only beneficial on a human level, but it is also a key factor in talent retention and growth for the business. Next time you are struggling with something, sit with it, analyze your role in it, start working on a resolution, and when you feel the time is right, take it back to your team and look for opportunities to bring your outside inside. If you are in a safe and transparent work environment, it’s like a power-up for the whole team, and as they say « high water raises all boats! »

There are more great projects than there are great teams so focus on developing great people and you will start to see great projects.

You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your team so #JFDI