I recently had a conversation about teaching creative-centered college courses with Leslie, one of our team members. I just wrapped up a stint of instructing, and Leslie is diving back in after a four-year hiatus. She said there were many reasons she decided to go back, but that one of the biggest ones was that she missed the dynamic of the classroom.

I know exactly what she meant. When I was a student, I fell in love with that dynamic. There was something special about the way my professors would spill their knowledge to me and my peers. It was like they were telling us secrets.

Leslie and I both know from our teaching experience that there’s something equally as special about handing your students tools and watching the unique ways they use them—that there’s hardly a prouder feeling than watching a student succeed.

Learning doesn’t stop after school, even though there’s no longer that student / teacher divide. So, how can we replicate this beautiful dynamic in the workplace? There’s something to say for mentorship—providing support, investing knowledge, skills, and resources, and fostering environments conducive to creativity and growth.

A Job that Does Both

Keeping employees happy is a no-brainer. Happy employees means better quality work, which means happy clients, which means business is boomin’. If your work was constantly being diminished by an asshole boss, or you were trying to scrape by on minimum wage (or less), do you really think you’d develop to the best of your abilities? We don’t think so either.

However, contentment doesn’t necessarily equal growth, so we wanted to push this a step farther (we love to do that). We made it our goal to foster a work environment where both contentment and growth are possible. 

Learning and developing skills takes time, and there’s only time if your basic needs are met (we don’t buy the ole “bootstraps” myth!). Only once your employees have those basic needs covered (think “Safety Needs” in Maslow’s hierarchy: healthcare, a living wage, etc.) can they begin to assess whether they feel like a valued member of a team, or whether they feel fulfilled and accomplished in their work.

Cutting Teeth

Investing in someone—whether it’s an intern, a team member, even a client or freelancer—is part of building a team, and the investment can’t only be financial.

We want our team members to feel wanted, believed in, and supported. In addition to perks like a company SkillShare subscription and a discounted YMCA membership, we invest in company experiences.

In 2019, we shipped off to Columbus, Georgia for a long weekend at the Creative South conference.

It was our third year attending, and we’re planning to go back for the next one (safety allowing). Over the weekend, we mingled with other folks in the industry, had some out-of-the office team bonding time, and enjoyed discussions over meals and drinks about the topics presented.

There’s a return on these investments because we not only see better work from our interns and employees, but we also get to see them take initiative on projects they’re passionate about. They have new skills and resources to use, which means they can make better quality work, and also do more of the work they’re actually passionate about.

At the same time, the work environment thrives. It’s less of a competitive or demanding atmosphere and more like a support system. The team feels like just that—a team. We have talented, driven, dedicated people ready to go to bat for us. 

But how do you invest in a person?

Give a shit. The same way you know a good teacher from a bad teacher in college, an employee can tell a good boss from a bad one, or rather, a boss they want to work for and one they don’t. You can always tell whether a teacher cares if you’re learning anything—whether they care about the subject matter at all. The best teachers are the one who are totally ga-ga for the subject they teach, and that kind of passion catches on.

Give a shit, not only about what you do, or about the work someone is capable of, but also about the person. We see each individual on our team at Mediocre as a vital part of our company. Everyone is valued not only for their work, but for the unique personalities, experiences, and knowledge bases they bring to the table.

There’s no need to get too personal, or to cross the professional barrier, but like a teacher-student relationship, you can’t teach someone without knowing how they learn. To know how someone learns, you have to get to know them. 

Fostering talent encompasses more than the specific skill set that someone is hired to do. That’s important, of course—but there’s more to it. It includes learning to operate as part of a team, learning to talk about your work in different contexts, connecting with other people in the industry, expanding your mind. 

Quality Becomes Quantity

What’s really possible when we leverage our company resources? Can we improve the quality of life for the entire creative community? What about personal communities and families? Local, regional, global? 

We struggle to say that our little company can change the world. However, we take this mindset of investment into every aspect of our operation—from new hires, to longtime employees, clients, freelancers, and friends. Our hope is that by putting good in, others will get good out, and decide to do the same wherever they go.

Ash received a B.A. in English and Cinema Studies from the University of Tennessee and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Kentucky. Before joining Mediocre Creative, Ash was Prose Editor for Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine, Editor of Digital Media for New Limestone Review, and an instructor of both Creative Writing and Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Media at the university level. Ash specializes in copywriting, strategy, messaging, and editing.

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