How can leaders enhance their employees' creativity?



In today's dynamic markets, employee creativity has become a crucial factor for any innovative company. No doubt, creativity is the key for success. But what measures can be taken by leaders to enhance creativity in organizational settings? We have looked at the most recent evidence-based studies in highly regarded management journals and summed up the most interesting results for you.

First of all, what is really meant by the term "creativity"? A conclusive definition of the term has not yet been given by research. Csikszentmihalyi defines it as "an idea or an action [...] which is new and valuable". The component model of creativity by Amabile describes the characteristics the individual must have in order to generate creative ideas or products. On the one hand, creative thinking skills are required, based on knowledge of the application of the heuristic mentioned above as well as cognitive abilities, personality traits and work methods that promote creativity. On the other hand, specific domain expertise is required, including technical skills and a certain talent. Finally, there must be a specific motivation to deal with the task. Only when these prerequisites are met can there be a creative output that increases with the degree of its fulfillment. By increasing the creativity of an employee, the creative output of the entire organization can grow too.


Instruments for Increasing Organizational Creativity

Which specific instruments can be used to increase organizational creativity and what role does extrinsic motivation play in this context?


Human Resource Management

In terms of HR management, nine instruments are interesting when it comes to their effect on creativity. When executives have creative thinking skills, professional expertise and specific soft skills, there is a positive but indirect correlation with employee creativity.

Surprisingly, a relatively weak correlation exists between ethical leadership and creativity whereas an increased motivation to express oneself has a direct influence on creativity.

Noncontrolling supervision, which is defined as the promotion of the autonomy of the employees and recognition of their perceptions, has a moderate influence on creativity. On the other hand, strict monitoring shows a negative correlation with creativity.

Supportive supervision is characterized by an interest in the needs of employees, support and feedback on creative tasks, as well as the promotion of their skills.

In the case of transformational leadership (role model, inspiring motivation, intellectual stimulation, individual support), a lesser but still positive correlation with creativity can be found. Here, the innovation climate is strengthened, intrinsic motivation is increased and responsibility and autonomy are transferred to employees. However, dependency on a manager is detrimental to creativity.



In terms of structural leadership, the two main categories are extrinsic incentives and resources. Extrinsic incentives for good (creative) performance have a relatively low correlation.

Instead, pressure to perform, self-determination and intrinsic motivation exert a direct influence on creativity. A positive correlation with creativity also exists with regards to extrinsic incentives for employees with more basic activities. However, in other combinations of cognitive style and occupation, a negative correlation can be seen.

The field of resources shows three positive results: creativity is slightly increased when accessing a sufficient amount of materials, equipment and money. Autonomous resourcing with limited access as well as directed resourcing with a resource surplus is also positively correlated with creativity.

In addition to the two categories of structural leadership mentioned above, there are three more informative elements that need to be considered: a conducive innovation climate (emphasis on freedom, risk-tolerance, openness, trust, willingness to experiment and the importance of creative work) correlates highly with the creativity of employees. An organizational structure with a flat hierarchy, flexible standards, decentralized and dynamic power distribution also has a positive effect on creativity.


Work Environment

What kind of influence does the work environment have on employee creativity? A small correlation exists if there is a supportive work environment as well as the support of family and friends, with an improvement in employees' mood noted. Also, the presence of creative colleagues is very beneficial. Team diversity with regards to cognitive style, performance and age also correlates positively with creativity.

With regards to length of employment and hierarchical status, creative action has a negative ratio. If power structures change within working groups, there is a moderate correlation. The physical work environment has a strong correlation with creativity: for example, clear, open and ergonomically structured offices create enthusiasm and a feeling of freedom. Important variables are also adaptive lighting, plants and a quiet location. Separate resting and break rooms also support creativity. There is a small correlation with creative personalities, positive emotions and the routinizing of tasks. Creativity training and the use of creativity techniques can have a very positive effect on creativity.


Work Content

Finally, what is the role of work content regarding an employee's creativity? A moderate degree of time pressure can have a very positive effect on creativity. However, too much time pressure has the opposite effect. Job complexity for innovators shows a negligible correlation with creativity. Creativity goals and performance targets are crucial for creativity. Learning goals have a low positive impact on creativity. Autonomy at work also shows a low correlation.


Overall, many instruments show their positive effect on organizational creativity as long as they are used within an existing framework. In principle, this shows that hardly any measure is context-free. Only organizations with a holistic approach towards the promotion of employee creativity will see long-term benefits.