It is commonly assumed that creativity has little value outside traditionally creative fields like architecture, advertising, and entertainment. But organizations in all fields—including financial services—can benefit from tapping into the creative capacity of their entire employee base. By leveraging everyone within your firm, you can uncover a wider variety of ways to improve it. Sometimes these changes are profound. Often, however, they are simple 1-percent improvements that, when combined, can make a big difference over time.
So, how do you get those creative juices flowing? Here, I'll offer some ideas for fostering creativity in your financial services firm and, ultimately, transforming your organization for the better.
Creativity for All
Creativity—or the conception of original and value-added ideas and solutions—can help you maintain your edge, especially in the face of increased competition. When looking ahead, it's important to keep in mind that the skills that brought success in the past may not guarantee success in the future—and that everyone at your firm may have something to offer.
In fact, many business schools now teach leaders how to encourage creativity in all employees, rather than to rely solely on management for new ideas. With the right encouragement, everyone at your firm can add value by offering ideas for continuous improvement.
3 Creativity Exercises for Staff Meetings
One great way to get everyone on the team involved is to develop creativity exercises for your next staff meeting. Here are three exercises you might consider:
1) "I wish." As a group, brainstorm using 10 to 15 "I wish" statements. For example, "I wish I could double my A+ client base." Such statements often lead to a host of big and fanciful objectives, so don't hold back. Then, pick one and brainstorm out-of-the-box ways to make it happen.
2) Service enhancement. First, pick a service you offer. Then, as a group, brainstorm ways to enhance it. Write down all of the ideas—big, small, realistic, or even silly. Consider ways to:
- Simplify it (i.e., the service)
- Use it in a new way
- Automate it
- Reduce its cost
- Make it easier to use
- Make it faster
- Improve its packaging
- Add new features
- Integrate it with other services
- Reduce or eliminate negative aspects
- Provide emotional appeal
3) Group problem solving. There are certainly problems that everyone on your team faces. Have your team pinpoint these problems and then, as a group, come up with solutions. Seem simplistic? Maybe, but small firms often overlook the value of brainstorming as a team. It is a useful tool for yielding diverse viewpoints and insights.
Creativity in the Field
Here at Commonwealth, we have seen limitless examples of creativity in our advisor offices. These are just a few:
- Process enhancements: To reinforce the importance of developing repetitive processes, one firm launched a "Groundhog Project" based on the movie Groundhog Day. In a fun and engaging manner, the theme reinforced to all members of the firm's team that, without repetitive processes, they would address the same issues over and over without making progress. This led to the development of an impressively thorough procedures manual that has become integral to the firm's operations.
- Client solutions: An operations manager at another firm has been applauded by the advisors in her office for going beyond the call of duty to support the firm's clients. She strives to meet their clients' needs, including everything from helping them solve their car problems to organizing immigration paperwork.
- Marketing ideas: When an expansion of hospitals and medical research centers was announced near the firm of one of our affiliated advisors, the founder took it upon himself to launch a health care-focused resource group. The group included experts from a variety of fields—from attorneys to business coaches to public relations professionals—to provide assistance and direction to individuals and area businesses looking to grow in relation to the expanding medical center. This effort gained major traction, as well as significant media coverage.
Foster a Creative Environment
Whatever methods you choose, fostering creativity in your financial services firm won't happen overnight. And continuous improvement through creativity certainly doesn't happen by accident. Instead, it requires a proactive, purposeful approach.
Creativity isn't the domain of an elite few. Almost everyone has the capacity to come up with new ideas. With this in mind, managers should strive to create an environment that encourages employees to participate in problem solving and brainstorming ideas. The following actions may help you to create just such an environment:
- As mentioned previously, allot time for creative exercises during staff meetings.
- Regularly communicate the importance of suggesting ideas for continuous improvement. This could even be part of your firm's mission or vision.
- Publicly recognize individuals who suggest creative improvements.
- Include staff in annual business planning sessions. Giving employees the opportunity to contribute ideas for improvement can increase their commitment to the firm's future.
- Proactively solicit ideas and be prepared to empower employees to act on them.
- Conduct a "10-times exercise." That is, ask yourself, "If I increased my revenue 10 times this year, what would I do differently?"
Avoid suppressing creativity. Although certain actions foster creativity, it's equally important to be aware of actions or activities that suppress creativity:
- Assigning tight deadlines that don't give employees enough time to think of new or different solutions
- Setting expectations that all ideas must be successful (new ideas are inherently risky)
- Micromanaging projects or tasks
- Making assumptions about answers
- Rushing to negative conclusions when ideas are proposed
- Creating competitions to submit ideas (which encourages employees to hoard ideas rather than collaborate)
Maximize Human Capital
Ultimately, fostering creativity can help increase the return on your human capital investment. Challenging employees to identify continuous improvements engages them in their work—often boosting motivation. And by harnessing the creative capacity of your entire firm, you will likely discover a multitude of opportunities for improving your organization.
Have you developed other ways of fostering creativity in your financial services firm? Have you seen results? Please share your thoughts with us below.