The Creative HR: Balancing Flexibility and Structure

The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Patricia Yap, this chapter is titled, “The Creative HR: Balancing Flexibility and Structure.” In it, Fabi Carino, the Country HR Director at Denstu Aegis Network, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in employee training. 


With over two decades of working experience, Fabi Carino has been successfully operating managerial positions in the human resource department of several top organizations. Some of the names she’s worked with were Filinvest Land Inc., Thomson Reuters, and HSBC, and in all of these, she’s worked as the Head of Organizational Learning and Development - a specialization that enabled her to do what she does til now.

 

But in 2013, a rather big change was presented to her when the pool of employees she had to oversee had work that was much more ambiguous in nature. She had to deal now with creatives. 

 

When Carino came into ABS-CBN in 2013, she had to adjust her learning and development strategy to the mindset of the creatives practitioners. This was challenging because unlike very rigid, structured, and cut-and-dry professions like real estate or accounting, people who work in this industry required more flexibility, she said. 

 

Spoken and more lecture-driven development strategies such as public seminars, forums, and consultations can suffice for other professions. For example, the MPM Consulting Services Inc., a business process outsourcing company in the Philippines, commonly provided the following knowledge-based seminars: tax return preparation, business registration, and payroll. 

 

On the other hand, interactive and hands-on training is more suitable for creative professions, as Carino had to again experience when she became Country HR Head of Dentsu Aegis Network. Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) itself has what they call, the Dentsu Management Institute, an annual intensive and interactive week-long program that brings together 25 of their most talented creatives. DAN also has the Skill Academy, where their creatives can join and access interactive digital modules to broaden their skills. Some of the curriculum included here can develop people’s skills when it comes to user experience, design thinking, and digital transformation.

 

Training creatives is a lot harder to do. According to Rob Hard from The Balance Small Business, while both seminars and workshops are costly, needed experts, resources, a schedule, and an agenda, workshops doubled these efforts because of interactivity. More interactivity translated to more costs, resources, and careful scheduling. 

 

And though these hands-on programs take longer, and serve as an obstacle to people’s attention spans, Carino knew that such programs are what’s best. So when creating programs that are interactive,  tedious planning in order to keep people’s attention is vital. 

 

Creativity is overall harder to teach. According to an article by Think with Google, there isn’t one exact recipe for creativity, but there are certainly guidelines that can be followed. And Carino’s solution was to design exactly just that—a training curriculum specifically tailored to guide certain employee positions in DAN.

 

“In my experience, the creatives cannot be placed in a rigid environment. I realized there should be an allowance of flexibility and that there should be multifacets of approach to keep these people interested,” explained Carino. 

 

And she made sure to transform this realization to practice—ultimately proving how she was adaptable and creative herself. She wouldn’t be the HR Head of a global digital creative marketing group like DAN if she wasn’t. 

 

Similar to her previous project with ABS-CBN creatives, this new curriculum will have internal and outsourced speakers from the academe and the creatives industry, partner brands to develop training and education modules, onsite and online training programs, an online skills academy and e-learning group, and one-on-one mentorship with experts. But before starting this initiative, Carino chose to conduct a training needs analysis first for DAN’s employees. 

 

“Before designing a curriculum, I knew I needed to conduct a training needs analysis first. Why? Well, we cannot assume that one program will work and prove useful for all our creatives  employees. The creative mindset is different, and employee needs vary. In other organizations, they might have a one-size-fits-all program that seems promising, but in reality, don't really benefit its employees in practice,” she said. 

 

Results from an article from Wroclaw University of Science and Technology found that the use of training needs analysis (TNA) was effectively correlated with the improvement of employee efficiency. Starting with a TNA helped leaders formulate better training programs for employees. Whatever initiative an organization chooses to do to improve their employee’s efficiency should first focus on the use of training needs analysis—the challenge is how she’ll do it. 

 

Carino said TNA is different for creatives. “Creativity is very hard to teach. It’s something that you should be able to influence, but only through the programs that you teach,” she added. 

 

To succeed, you have to choose wisely which platforms you’ll use to assess them as they’re output-based, get feedback from their managers, and segment them into degrees of either low or high competency and commitment, she added. This is done to know who should be put into which specific training curriculum. After all, creativity in this industry isn’t just about having a unique or completely original idea. According to Tanner Christensen, the Head of Design at Gem., the idea can only be considered as creative once it’s proven useful to a community. 

 

Since Carino was able to establish a good data-gathering foundation from the start, designing the training and development curriculum for their employees sailed smoothly. Not only did she think of the preparations and the actual program, but also the assessment. 

 

Carino said, “One thing that also helps is measurement. People say at the end of every program that they’ll apply what they learned in the office, but based on statistics, only 30% would actually apply what they learned. So what we did was we integrated measurement and split them into five areas.”

 

The five levels are reaction, knowledge, behavior, impact, and return of investment. You have to first observe how your employees are reacting to the program. After that you measure whether they’ve learned anything or not through a pre- and post-test. If the knowledge level was successful, see if they’re able to apply what they learned at work; you’ll know through their manager’s feedback. So when all three levels are successful, your employee will create a positive impact in the form of investment returns. And in the case of the creative industry, this would be the retention of current clients and the acquisition of new accounts. 

 

Getting to the fifth, and sometimes fourth level is difficult, so the program is designed to at least achieve the third. Once the work behavior of your employees changes, you’ve already made great developments. “You have to make sure that you can measure a program because you’re also putting money here. People see training as a cost, when in fact it’s really an investment,” said Carino. 

 

But beyond all this masterful skill training, Carino believed that what’s most essential is mental healthcare and awareness. As such, Carino introduced the Mind Your Mind campaign - a program that aimed to provide mental wellness modules to assist their employees. Through self-discovery, understanding of behavior and with the provision of wellness guidelines, DAN’s employees are able to manage stress and anxiety more effectively. 

As everyone understands, no one person is safe from burnout. And though the creatives are free to express, their profession is one of the most susceptible to it. So having a program that enables employees to have strong mental grit, genuine happiness and overall positivity, makes for a more powerful impact to the company as a whole. 

As such, HR leaders such as Carino would want to generate the most effective training programs for their employees as much as possible, all the while ensuring the programs cater beyond skill and aren’t a loss of time, effort, and resources. If your creatives practitioner such as the graphic designer is able to produce work more efficiently and more easily because of your Advance Adobe Workshop and Holistic Health campaign for example, then Carino believed you’ve accomplished your role as an HR trainer and developer. 

To get more insights from other HR leaders like Fabi Carino, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


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