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Researcher of the Month Gerhard Speckbacher

Video Gerhard Speckbacher

Gerhard Speckbacher

Researcher of the Month - August

Lead­er­ship: Man­aging Cre­ativ­ity

Cre­ativ­ity is an es­sen­tial factor for the suc­cess of busi­ness en­ter­prises. Al­most every com­pany be­ne­fits from cre­ativ­ity in one way or an­other. WU Pro­fessor Ger­hard Speck­bacher, head of the In­sti­tute for Stra­tegic Man­age­ment and Man­age­ment Con­trol, and his team have re­cently in­vestig­ated the ques­tion of how com­pan­ies should go about man­aging cre­ativ­ity. The re­search­ers found that em­ploy­ees are not at their most cre­at­ive when left com­pletely to them­selves, but that cre­ativ­ity is a key man­age­ment task.

When people hear the word “cre­ativ­ity,” they usu­ally think of artists and genius scient­ists and their some­times ec­cent­ric idi­o­syn­crasies. Friedrich Schiller, for in­stance, is re­puted to have drawn cre­at­ive in­spir­a­tion from the smell of rot­ting apples. In a busi­ness con­text, however, cre­ativ­ity is al­most never about spec­tac­u­lar flashes of in­spir­a­tion. In fact, cre­ativ­ity tends to be part of the daily busi­ness of com­pan­ies and is usu­ally a team ef­fort. This means that su­per­visors are faced with the chal­len­ging task of man­aging their teams in a way that en­ables the team mem­bers to think cre­at­ively and out of the box while at the same time func­tion­ing well as a team and pro­du­cing ideas that are use­ful and feas­ible for the busi­ness. In his re­search, WU Pro­fessor Ger­hard Speck­bacher, head of WU’s De­part­ment of Strategy and In­nov­a­tion and the In­sti­tute for Stra­tegic Man­age­ment and Man­age­ment Con­trol, looks at the ques­tion of how teams should be man­aged and su­per­vised for op­timum per­form­ance both in terms of cre­ativ­ity and the ful­fill­ment of busi­ness tar­gets.

A look at real-life man­age­ment prac­tice

As part of several stud­ies con­duc­ted at the In­sti­tute for Stra­tegic Man­age­ment and Man­age­ment Con­trol over the past five years, over 1,000 people work­ing at several hun­dred com­pan­ies in many dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries were in­ter­viewed to find out more about these ques­tions. The su­per­visors were asked about the man­age­ment in­stru­ments they used, and the em­ploy­ees shared their per­cep­tions of their su­per­visors and their man­age­ment styles. Ger­hard Speck­bacher and his fel­low re­search­ers also col­lec­ted data about dif­fer­ent aspects of team com­pos­i­tion. To com­ple­ment these find­ings, an ad­di­tional study was car­ried out to find out how the su­per­visors rate their teams with regard to cre­ativ­ity. Fol­low­ing stat­ist­ical ana­lyses of the data ob­tained, vari­ous hy­po­theses were tested, for in­stance regard­ing the pros and cons of dif­fer­ent man­age­ment styles and the ef­fects of pre­defined tar­gets or rules on cre­ativ­ity in the team, seen as the gen­er­a­tion of new ideas that are use­ful for the com­pany.

The con­stel­la­tion makes the dif­fer­ence

The res­ults show that, con­trary to widely held be­liefs, clearly defined rules, norms, and tar­gets are very im­port­ant for the cre­at­ive pro­cess in a busi­ness con­text. Whether these rules, norms, and tar­gets have a pos­it­ive or a neg­at­ive im­pact on team cre­ativ­ity, however, de­pends on the su­per­visor’s man­age­ment style. Su­per­visors should not only in­spire and in­tel­lec­tu­ally stim­u­late their team mem­bers, but the tar­gets and evalu­ation meth­ods they use should be ori­ented to­wards devel­op­ment rather than con­trol. The use of devel­op­mental evalu­ation, that is feed­back aimed at devel­op­ing the team’s cap­ab­il­it­ies rather than con­trolling the de­gree of tar­get achieve­ment, can avoid the po­ten­tial neg­at­ive ef­fects of tar­gets and rules on the team’s in­trinsic mo­tiv­a­tion and cre­at­ive con­fid­ence.

A bet­ter bal­ance

This means that the key to pro­mot­ing cre­ativ­ity that be­ne­fits busi­ness en­ter­prises is not so much al­low­ing for ad­di­tional freedom, for in­stance at com­pan­ies like Google, which for a time ex­per­i­mented with giv­ing em­ploy­ees one day per week for be­ing cre­at­ive. “To stim­u­late the free flow of use­ful cre­at­ive ideas at a com­pany, it is by no means ne­ces­sary to abol­ish rules and tar­gets. Quite to the con­trary: Rules and tar­gets that are com­mu­nic­ated and jus­ti­fied in a clear man­ner are very im­port­ant, but they have to play a dif­fer­ent role. They help su­per­visors define spaces and dir­ec­tions for the team mem­bers to give free rein to their cre­ativ­ity and they help to develop the team’s skills in a struc­tured man­ner. For many su­per­visors, however, this man­age­ment style is much more chal­len­ging than the com­mon “plan-­do-check­-act” ap­proach to tar­get-­based man­age­ment,” ex­plains Pro­fessor Speck­bacher.

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