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When the pressure to be productive drives out creativity
It's far from plain sailing at technology giant Yahoo! The firm's profits and revenue have fallen. Competitors such as Google and Facebook are beating it in its core businesses of internet searching and social networking. And the company has slipped in mobile communications and other development areas.
In an effort to inject more dynamism and creativity into the workforce, 37-year-old Yahoo! chief executive Marissa Mayer - who only joined the business from Google last July - has declared herself head recruiter.
According to Michelle V. Rafter, in the November issue of Workforce Management, Marissa Mayer picked up her hands-on hiring philosophy at her former employer, where chief executive Larry Page still signs off on every new hire despite the workforce numbering 23,000.
There is, apparently, evidence that companies where the chief executive is directly involved in workforce management in this way, are more successful.
Michelle Rafter says that Marissa Mayer plans to acquire Silicon Valley start-ups in order to secure the services of top engineering and developer talent for Yahoo! She has also earmarked $1.3 billion of the proceeds from selling the Yahoo! stake in China's Alibaba Group to spend on recruiting and acquisitions.
While Yahoo! Is busy bringing in new talent, it also axed 2,000 jobs, or about 14% of its 12,000-stong global workforce, last year as part of an overall cost-cutting strategy. Michelle Rafter reports rumours that Marissa Mayer may intend to cut the workforce further.
Against such a background, the pressure to deliver financial results can make the workforce concentrate on being productive rather than creative.
In the December issue of Admap, Simon Bolton and Christian Schroeder cite an international survey in which three-quarters of respondents felt under growing pressure to be productive rather than creative at work, despite being expected to demonstrate innovative thinking.
The authors explain that, in a recession, the pressure to deliver financial results can make creativity the enemy. Time spent 'being creative' may not appear to be a valid use of resources when everyone else is toiling to get out an order and redundancies are in the offing.
While effectiveness is obviously desirable and achievable, 'it is not sexy and can never match up to a single spark of genius that can elevate a hum-drum brand into a name that is on everyone's lips,' the authors say.
The secret is to make time to give this the chance to happen. Providing 'creativity time' in this way can be motivating and refreshing for employees. It can improve their loyalty to the company, and their morale and overall effectiveness when they go back to their normal duties.
Of course, there can also be drawbacks. In the November issue if Information Age, Howard Baldwin points out that some managers may have unrealistic expectations of how quickly the company will earn a return on time spent being creative. And some employees may find it hard to work on projects that do not have a clear focus when their real-world deadlines loom.
But in general terms, it seems that giving employees time to be creative is a good investment. Howard Baldwin highlights two companies that have firmly recognized this. Google gives its employees a day a week to follow their passions, while 3M Corporation has allotted 15% of its employees' time to innovation.
Without that, Gmail may never have become the worldwide success that it is and offices across the globe may for ever have been denied the yellow sticky Post-It note.
Now where would we be without that?