A Great Motivator? There's Nothing Your Agency Has to Fear About Fear

Great Creative Workers Get Off on Trying Something They've Never Done Before

By Published on .

I've learned that there's nothing more powerful as a motivator than fear.

We've all seen fear as a negative force, and probably don't naturally think of it as a reward system. Used as a weapon, fear can ruin agencies, sapping morale and sending employees running for the door. Bad management teams have used fear in the worst way possible since the early days of business. Sadly, some agencies are still run with the "they'll-work-for-fear-of -being-fired" management style popularized in the industrial revolution days. If you're in one of these shops, you need to get out, as you'll never grow, you'll question every decision that you make and live in misery day to day. But you know this.

Fear in the workplace isn't always evil. Fear can be used as a positive motivational tool, too. I view fear as an accelerant. I believe that great creative workers get off on fear. Great creatives want to do things that scare them. Great creatives strive to live on the tip-top of the roller-coaster hill in the world of creativity. If offered the opportunity to do something that scares them a just a bit, great creatives will respond with "bring it."

So how can you use fear as a motivational tool? Give your team the opportunity to do something they've never done before. Fear-inducing situations don't always have to be epic projects or events. You can create fear in small doses, too. For an entry-level employee, it could be traveling on a business trip alone for the first time. For a senior executive, it might be writing a blog post. For the most deserving employees, this is an opportunity to do something grand. To lead a project that 's at the level they've never done before. To manage a larger team than they've led. To open a new office or division.

What's important is that at the end of the day creative people get to go home proud that they've accomplished something that they haven't done before -- something that excites them, broadens their experience and gives them pride that they've experienced something new. Fear helps creative people grow.

Putting your employees into desirable fear-inducing situations requires a level of letting go that can be challenging. It would be easy to hire someone more experienced. Or to give the project to an employee who's done it three times before. But giving someone a chance to experience something new requires trust and belief in what that person can become.

There's a fine line between fear working as an accelerant versus fear becoming a crippling demotivator. A safety net is key. Just as we can be reasonably sure that we're not going to die riding a roller coaster, an employee needs to be assured that you'll support them if they fail at doing something new. Support comes in many forms. At the onset of the challenge, the employee will need information and training (if available) to prepare them for the quest. They'll also need appropriate resources allocated for the challenge ahead. When done, they'll need honest insights and education on how things went, where they excelled and where there was room for improvement. They need to be in an even stronger, more confident position when approaching the situation on their next go-round. Most important, they'll need the reassurance that you've "got their back."

Handled well, fear can create an environment where agency workers are constantly challenging themselves, always learning and continually growing. In an industry that 's built on change, that can be a wonderful thing. If you're lucky, you'll create a workplace where your employees are begging to do something that scares them -- while building a stronger, more experienced work force in the process. Let's bring it.

Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker, professional internet surfer and executive creative director at Carrot Creative in NYC. He's one of the three super-hot bloggers that make up AdVerve, and admits to knowing just enough about the creative business to be dangerous. Keep your distance.
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