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Building an efficient and innovative office by promoting creativity
Authored Chris Huebner
Individuals are at their best when they can showcase their individual strengths. When individuals perceive that they are performing at their best, they are more engaged at work and less likely to experience burnout (Maslach & Goldberg, 1998; Maslach & Leiter, 2008). Huebner (2011) noted that the opportunity to exercise creativity can be a major contributor to advisor well-being (¶ 8).
Creativity helps build more efficient and innovative advising offices that in turn promote student success. This article issues a challenge to advising administrators to create an environment that fosters creativity within the functional office setting. If we desire to advance academic advising as a discipline, then special efforts are needed to support creative innovators within our profession.
Why Creativity Is Important
The benefits of employee creativity are twofold. First, Rego,Macado, Leal, and Pina e Cunha (2009) posit that “…the promotion of creativity is a necessity, not an option (p.7). Employees who have the ability to express their creativity have a higher sense of hope and well-being and thus express more positive emotions. Second, when employees feel they have a personal stake in their work and are allowed to ‘think outside the box,’ there is potential for a profound positive effect. Fredrickson (2003) noted that when positive emotions are displayed and recognized, employees are able to broaden their thought processes (the creativity part), which in turn leads to building of personal and social resources for success (p. 174). This is a real benefit in an office setting where such an “upward spiral effect” influences not only the individual, but others (Fredrickson, 2003, p. 174). When applied to organizational settings, literature on creativity,show that employees who experience higher frequencies of positive emotions are able to think through decisions in a more careful and accurate manner, perform better in leaderless situations, and become more effective and more socially integrated (Staw & Barsade, 1993; Staw, Sutton, & Pellod, 1994; Wright & Staw, 1999). In fact, it could be said that “high performing” companies were similarities to companies who score continuously high on employee satisfaction surveys (Losada & Heaphy,2004).They found that the key reason for this positive correlation is that employees are allowed to be creative (p. 761 – 762). Losada and Heaphy(2004)mathematically mapped what high a performing business would look like versus a low performing business. They found an identifiable “tipping point” that occurred when offices moved from being considered low performing to high performing. The tipping point was reached when two dimensions were at their highest: inquiry and advocacy (p. 752 – 756). In other words, high performing businesses had employees who were generally “fresh”, “creative”, and willing to advocate for one another (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 21).
Creativity fosters work place positivity, which allows for stronger connections between employees, more flexible and resilient workers, and stronger advocacy for the betterment of the office as a whole (Losada & Heaphy, 2004, p. 23).We see this in the business world; why shouldn’t we apply the same principles to advising offices? Why not build an advising office around this ethos? This requires advising directors to find advisors who are open and creative team players who can promote innovation and/or create more efficient office processes that then develop more effective services and more positive student and parent perceptions.
Promote a creative environment
Salley and Gilson (2000 and 2004) explained that work environments that facilitate creativity have employees who are more satisfied with their jobs, exhibit less turnover, and are more connected to the success of the office. When we examine Losada and Heaphy’s (2004) work, we see that the promotion of creativity is encouraged through inquiry (employee innovation) and advocacy (employee to employee support and administrative support). When inquiry is examined, we know why it is important that employees find purpose in their work if we are to increase the positive work environment. Not only must individuals become stakeholders in their work, but the office as a whole must operate as a collaborative effort if we are to reap the most benefits. Innovation oftentimes follows positive workplace interactions. Offices must make efforts to share both ideas and positive outcomes/occurrences to start these conversations.
In an Academic Advising Today article, McFaddin and Schulze (2011) discussed the creation of an advising blog. The premise of the blog was to offer support to students on probation. The idea for the blog stemmed from a conversation that occurred when a student expressed distress about becoming academically disqualified. In their discussion of steps they took to create the blog McFaddin and Schulze noted two of the important actions needed for building a positive environment among employees. First, frequent conversations among staff members must take place(¶ 5). Even when there is no agenda, it is important that employees engage with one another. Advising administrators should make it a point to have regular meetings where advisors “talk shop” and, if necessary, get out of the office. In Johnson’s (2010) Ted Talk, he discussed the importance of human networks and brainstorming collaboratively and continuously. He points out that innovations are rarely the result of a completely solo act.
The second important action recommended by McFaddin and Schulze (2011) was the creation of stakeholders (¶ 3), which leads to employee-to-employee advocacy. Readers of Losada and Heaphy (2004) can conclude that when employees are able to flourish and develop purposeful projects, they become more resilient and more willing to become active participants in the project. When employees become stakeholders the environment is conducive to innovation. In the case of the probation blog, both McFaddin and Schulze became stakeholders when they became actively involved in the entire process, advocating for the blog from beginning to end. Aside from the finished product, McFaddin and Schulze picked up new skills (e.g., social media creation, communication skills) and now have the ability to experiment in other outlets.
Advising administrators can create an environment that promotes creativity and innovation when there are continual and meaningful interactions between advisors and themselves (Salley & Gilson, 2004). Administrators must be visible, available, and involved in major office processes; administrators must support advisors through the appropriation of adequate resources. Dan Pink’s Ted Talk (2009) highlighted that support, not rewards, was overwhelming reported as the number one vehicle for intrinsic motivation. Studies that examine the link between creativity and supervisory support point to supervisory methods and perception of administrator advocacy towards employees(Redmond, Mumford & Teach, 1993; Scott & Bruce, 1194; Oldham & Cummings, 1996).
A second way advising administrators can promote an environment that fosters creativity is to allow advisors to become experts in specific areas who then can identify possible stakeholders inside the office. When faced with a project or a proposal, administrators should identify key stakeholders within the office who can drive innovation/creation. When administrators seek out stakeholders, they showcase their support for creativity. For example, Tapscott and Williams (2006)sharedthat when Best Buy acquired the Geek Squad™ brand they asked if they could put the Geek Squad logo on products to be sold in China. Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens said they could use the logo as long as Geek Squad members endorsed the product. Stephens’ response led to Geek Squad members developing products for Best Buy. Anyone who has purchased a flash drive that folds inward to protect the input, owns a product-reflecting advocacy for employee creativity (Tapscott & Williams, 2006. p. 241 – 245). Stephens was a huge proponent of being visible among his employees. When faced with a project, he immediately went to those in the trenches. He found stakeholders and promoted a workplace environment that encouraged creativity and positivity because management was invested in it(Tapscott & Williams, 2006, p. 241 – 245). Similarly, in the case of McFaddin and Schulze’s probation blog, it was easy for the advisors’ supervisor to identify stakeholders because she was involved in her employees’ conversations both directly and indirectly.
Finally, advising administrators should include staff creativity and innovation in employee evaluations. Ask advisors: “What is one way you have contributed to creativity in this office?” Inclusion of this question sends the message that contributing to the office through creativity is important. This message may be especially important for younger staff members. In Tim Brown’s Ted Talk (2008), he stated that as individuals transition into adulthood their perception of risk manifests itself as a fear of being judged by others and can stifle new ideas. When advising administrators promote an environment that allows creativity to flourish, they build more efficient and innovative advising offices that in turn promote student success.
Academic advisors and advising administrators should recognize the importance of creativity in creating a positive environment in which to serve students. Directors should think about how they can maximize the performance and well-being of their employees. Sweeping reforms are not needed; instead small changes have the potential to make a major impact. Small changes that will help create a positive work environment are the promotion of creativity, employee inquiry, and advocacy. Numerous positive outcomes happen for students and advisors alike when advisors experience positive emotions and display creativity at work.
School of Journalism and Mass Communications
University of South Carolina
Brown, T. (2008, November). Tim Brown on creativity. (Ted Talks). Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_brown_on_creativity_and_play.html
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