How do you align your design team and change the story in your department?
Here are my seven steps to help creative leaders change their design culture.

1. Create a space for discussions and feedback.
Designers need to feel that they are being heard. Start with asking a lot of questions with the goal of creating conversations. Once the conversations become part of the routine, your team will support you in the difficult decisions, as they know you took their thoughts into consideration.

2. Empower your team.
Your team wants to feel like they add value to your business. Give them opportunities to ideate and make decisions on their own. A good way to accomplish this is to make each person responsible for an area of business. This structure will give each designer something to own and be accountable for, which in turn makes them feel empowered.

3. Make sure your expectations are clear.
There will be times where you have to set some ground rules. Don’t just assume things will get better next time. However, while you’re setting expectations, your team has to know that you are there to help them do their job properly. If there is an issue, you need to know about it. Don’t let them stew about it and foster negativity within your area. They need to come talk to you about it and get it solved.

4. Have—and communicate— consequences for their actions.
If they don’t think you’re serious about what they need to do, or what they should NOT be doing, they’ll take advantage of you. So implement new policies and stand your ground. This may be tough at first, but they will respect you for it later.

5. Admit when you’re wrong.
You’re human. You will make decisions that don’t work out. And that’s ok. Learn from them and move forward. Your team will only lose respect for you if you act like you’re right all the time, especially when you’re not.

6. Design an environment where critiques are automatic.
This is the most important step and the biggest one for creative leaders. Make people start talking about their work, even though it may be uncomfortable for them. If critiquing is new to your office, start by asking the designers for feedback on your own work. What’s working? What’s not working? What can I do to make it better? Is it communicating the intended message? People hate critiquing because they don’t know how to criticize or be criticized. The more you can get them talking about design, the more comfortable they will be with the idea of a critique.

7. Be a true leader.
Leadership is about you being authentic. Faking it doesn’t work. Leadership encompasses integrity, trust, vision and excellence in all we do. However, leadership means nothing unless it is truly genuine. You have to create an energy and be responsible for the results.

The key thing to remember with all of these steps is that control doesn’t work. You need to create a supportive atmosphere that drives trust and collaboration. You can try to control, but people will just find a way around you. You cannot make anyone do anything. You have to motivate and inspire by your actions. A leader says what needs to be said, in service of the commitment to the brand. And having a brand commitment, like “What do we serve?” frees us to stand for something greater than our egos. Changing the culture, or the story, is all about commitment- your commitment to the creative process, your commitment to your team and your commitment to the work.

Director, Brand Creative at Little Caesar Enterprises, Inc.
Detroit xCHANGE – Keynote Speaker