September 15

The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Creative People, Innovators and Intrapreneurs

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The Ideal Resource for Business Leaders to Learn How to Effectively Manage Intrapreneurs, Innovators and Creatives

Managing creative, innovative and intrapreneurial people is a challenge. It’s not an issue of motivation or meeting deadlines; it’s more to do with extracting the best from people and keeping them engaged. Here we’ll look at the different aspects of managing people like this and look at ways you can get the most from your people. We’ll examine some of the tools you can use to get the most out of your team and the skills you need to be a great leader.

What is a Creative Person?

First, let’s take a look at what sets innovators, intrapreneurs and other creative people apart. What is it about their characteristics and work-style that mean we need to adapt our management techniques to get the most out of them?

People have varying opinions when it comes to what a creative person is. But studies from psychologists suggest there are a number of diametrically opposed traits that creative people tend to have. Here are some of those characteristics:

  • Energetic and enthusiastic, yet also tend to work quietly for long periods with high levels of concentration
  • High levels of intelligence yet also exhibit a childish nature, curiosity and playfulness
  • Apparently carefree, sometimes irresponsible, and yet also tremendously hard-working and disciplined
  • Appear to exhibit traits of both extroverts and introverts simultaneously
  • An ability to see things in different ways – a sense of fantasy and imagination, that is crucially, rooted in reality
  • Can exhibit traits traditionally associated with the opposite sex. Creative women tend to be more dominant and thick-skinned than other women. Creative men tend to me more sensitive and less aggressive than their male counterparts. In other words, creative people are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender, but those of the other one too. (It’s worth noting that this trait is completely independent of the person’s sexuality).

It’s this combination of characteristics that enables creative people to conceive novel solutions to problems and “think outside the box”. And yet, looking at that list as a manager, it easy to see how those seemingly conflicting qualities can make a person appear unpredictable and difficult to manage.

And so, how do we go about effectively managing a team of innovators and intrapreneurs?  Here are the 4 critical rules you should use to guide your approach.

How to Manage a Team of Creative Innovators and Intrapreneurs

Rule 1. Behave Like an Advisor, Not a Manager

The first rule of managing creative people is to not manage them at all! Try to act more like an advisor instead. Think of your relationship with your innovators and intrapreneurs as a partnership – just like teammates working on the same project.

Like most partnerships, the best relationships are built on transparency and collaboration.

If you can get your team to truly open up and be honest with each other – and you – they will feel like you’re truly working together towards a common goal.

Be there to give advice and support when needed. Help the team remove blockers, navigate company politics and win-over the gatekeepers.

Above all coach them to develop their intrapreneurial skillset in a systematic way.

(RELATED: [DOWNLOAD] Intrapreneur Skills Framework – Discover the skills your team should develop, and that you should coach them on.)

Rule 2. Agree Clear Goals, Give the Team Your Trust, Then Get Out of The Way

Remember, you’re not managing anymore. You are not telling people what to do, or how. You are not in control of the project. 😨

So how do you avoid things getting out of control?

It works like this: Agree a clear set of goals with your intrapreneurs. Ones that they can buy into and support. The key word here is: agree.

All the team’s goals should be agreed through discussion.

When you’re working with innovators and intrapreneurs, you’ll probably find that they set themselves much more ambitious goals than you would have anyway.  That means your role as their ‘manager’ is likely to involve reigning them in and persuading them set more realistic, achievable targets, than they naturally would have themselves.

When you agree a set of goals, you should make sure to include:

  • an agreed budget
  • an overall vision for the project
  • some specific metrics to measure progress, and
  • a review period – the point when you both agree you will sit down together and review progress

Then, step back and leave them to it (unless, that is, they ask for your assistance).  It may seem unnatural, but at this point you need to let team be autonomous and make mistakes.

And they WILL make mistakes! 

Which leads us neatly on to the next point…

Rule 3. Let Innovators Make Their Own Mistakes

We just have to accept it…

Successful innovations seldom come from the first idea. That means any innovation project will surely include its fair share of failures. Your job is to help the team prepare for failure.

By necessity intrapreneurs are optimistic and believe in their ideas. They don’t naturally foresee problems and may get discouraged when the inevitable happens.   

In your role as the intrapreneur’s advisor, discuss what might go wrong. Talk about how the team might handle it and how they would overcome that failure. Encourage profitable failure. That is failure that the team can learn from and use to improve their idea, their problem definition or business model.

Rule 4. Hold Innovators Accountable

We just said you should let your creatives and innovators make their own mistakes… but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also hold them accountable.


At first sight, that might seem somewhat paradoxical. But it really isn’t.

Look back to Rule #2. You defined a set of metrics to measure progress, and a review period. The specific mistakes we mentioned in Rule #3 just don’t matter when we look at this bigger picture. It’s the progress made against your agreed metrics that do.

To effectively hold your intrapreneurs to account, make sure you stick to your agreed review periods. Then use those reviews to double-down on your role as a trusted advisor. Try to think like a VC would on a startup board. If you still see opportunity and potential in the project, agree new goals and funding and steer the team gently in the right direction.

If you think the project has run its course, then it’s your responsibility to kill the project and help your intrapreneurs onto their next project. Never punish your intrapreneurs when a project fails. The reality is that most intrapreneurial projects fail.


Manage the creative intrapreneurs and innovators in your company effectively by following the tips in this article.

The content in this article is derived from our market-leading Intrapreneurship Mastery training course. If you like what you’ve read here, we hope you’ll be able to join us for a future delivery.

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