The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization” is by Ratmir Timashev, CEO of Veeam.
In the neighborhood where I grew up in Ufa, in Russia’s Ural mountains, the environment was very competitive. Those who had big dreams needed to stand out, to fight for the limited space at the best schools. My father, an aircraft design engineer, taught me to be ambitious, always saying, “It does not matter who you want to be (a scientist, musician, engineer or a sportsman) – you must be the first.” It was not enough to be good or even great, one often needed to be the best to move on. While it may have been a bit tougher there than other places, it encouraged people to think creatively about solutions. It not only defined who I am, but enabled me to be open to alternative approaches to business problems.
Creativity requires a certain comfort with taking an unfamiliar route and staying open to learning along the way. It’s something I’ve always done myself and encourage in the people around me and in the key people I hire.
Personally, I’ve never had a job that wasn’t entrepreneurial. I founded my first company right out of college, sold that and founded my present one. But I had to learn to be a CEO by doing it, by experimenting with what worked and what didn’t. An optimist by nature, I generally see the potential for things to work, so I’ve always tried creative approaches when “practical” ones fail.
It’s the same attitude I expect from my team, so I empower them to work autonomously and try different things themselves. I do this by setting very specific goals for what the company wants to have happen, while giving them the freedom to decide how it should happen. For example, I may call on the sales department to grow revenue 30 percent without increasing marketing spending by more than 20 percent. I trust the teams I have put in place to accomplish this and know that they can develop and implement a solution that will work. And the results are astonishing. Employees thrive when they know that they have trust from leadership and are in a politics-free environment where ideas can be shared freely and openly.
The creative process isn’t something that can be captured, though, and innovation isn’t a process that can be reproduced and scaled. Instead, creativity must be nurtured and coaxed. And it must be exercised with an end goal of serving the customer.
At Veeam, our core values – the traits we ask current employees to emulate and look for in future employees – are all complementary to creativity. Our culture focuses on self-starters who take initiative and show passion, enthusiasm, and a competitive drive. We want people with common sense and good judgment, but who are also inclusive of the rest of the team and don’t consider lack of experience to be a negative thing. Of course, we’re also optimists who believe in ourselves and we have an intrinsic need to achieve.
Still, we don’t just let people go completely crazy with their ideas. They must always focus on the core customer and look for untraditional but elegant ways to solve their problems.
By making it our business to know what’s important to our customers and focusing our creative energy on addressing their needs, we’ll always win.