Creative Leadership

The Cost Of Being A Leader With Last Minute Ideas

The lesson for today:  If your ideas are delivered last minute, the execution will be half baked. One of the most frequent frustrations I hear from creative teams, media directors, advertising agencies, copywriters, and designers is that the executive, CEO, pastor, or other leader comes up with ideas at the last minute, but still expects them delivered on a deadline.  It’s actually an age-old problem called:

Yes – you think your team works miracles. And the truth is, they’ve probably killed themselves to meet your demands, but I can guarantee you, it’s taken a toll on their emotions, energy level, passion, and loyalty.

Keep it up, and in most cases, two things will happen:

1. You won’t keep them long if they’re truly talented.
2. The ones who stay won’t be very talented because it’s the only job they can get – or they’ve been beaten down and feel they have no options. (Is that the team you want?)

Cheap / Quick / Good  – You can have two, but not three.

Give your creative team a break. Give them enough lead time to be creative and be their best.

The rewards you reap will be more than worth your pre-planning and patience.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of Fast, Cheap, or Great?

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6 Comments

  1. I’ve seen this first hand Phil. I will often do things on the fly and forget others need time. Our sound/tech man likes to have stuff at least a week ahead. He has graciously bent over backwards if I have come to him on a Sunday and asked for a video to be played that I had just thought of that morning. He has worked to accommodate me. My wife, meanwhile, has chastised me for “breaking the rules.” She’s right and so I have tried to be far more conscientious. It certainly makes Ryan a happier camper (and also sets an example for others).

  2. You so nailed this subject… completely right on here. I’ve found many leaders don’t get that ideas have to go through a process to be successfully executed, and process means time. Here’s another challenge- getting the idea in a timely manner, however major last minute changes set back the project. I’ve worked weeks and months on approved projects that meant OT, blood, sweat and tears just to
    have it changed significantly…. and repeatedly, thrown out, or not used at all… all at the last minute. It always required more OT to meet the now very short deadline. Morale sinks with each experience when you or your team has spent time writing, shooting, propping, rehearsing, tech rehearsal, etc. … and all because the Holy Spirit has changed His mind… again. Really?! Burn out is not far behind this….

    Bottom line- Creatives WANT to produce a Van Gogh, but not in one day. Creatives are usually perfectionists to some degree. If they can’t create and do their work in excellence, then sleeping at night becomes a bit more difficult. One must sleep, so I’ve found you do what you can in the time you’re given, knowing you did the very best you could in the time you were given. Also, I’ve found you can save time by keeping your finger on the pulse of the central idea; it helps keeps you focused. In time, another assignment to produce a Van Gogh will come by someone who understands process. Great post Phil!

  3. In addition to production and creative, these unintended consequences extend into operations and finance as well. I have known print shops that loved dealing with ministries because they always made last minute changes which enabled the printer to add rush charges. The printer could bid low, because they knew they would make it up on the rush fees.

    What Maryjo says about process is so important too. An occasional rabbit pull can be a welcome challenge, but continually disrespecting well designed processes leads to frustration, low morale, and wasteful spending.

    1. I can relate to the print shops Chris, or the online venders because product needs to be shipped overnight cha ching!
      You mention “An occasional rabbit pull”… I think flying by the seat of your pants is fun, but when it becomes the normal due to a lack of planning or short notice, it’s only a matter of time before you lose your pants in this risky game. Just because you pull it off successfully, doesn’t make it a practice you should continue to follow.

  4. Last minute ideas became a way of life for me. They happen quite often because when the program is facing deadlines, then and only then, are we free to turn our attention to the program and think deep so we can knock the program out and move on to the next program. The question then becomes, does this brain storm idea have to be used in this program or can we save it for the next “like” program and just wrap-up what is in the existing program?

    There is another way to handle last minute ideas that is harder to implement; if you have the discipline and the leadership support it really works well. If you have the time and buy-in of everyone affected, set your deadline a month early or some period earlier. That way you have time to implement great ideas if you have the funding to add-in last minute ideas.

    For the problem of forgetting to contact all the people affected by a last minute idea; the only way I was able to keep everything straight for the big programs I managed, was by using a good relational program management data base. Not only will each program identify all the players but the software can track; to the penny all funding used, trends or problems that surprised everyone, it can notify individuals when deadlines are approaching with yellow and red when they bust an important deadline.

    A good program data base will identify players within the program who might be struggling so management can mentor them through problems they might not understand or worst case, identify someone that flat needs to find something else they can do better, relieving them of all the frustration of being in a position they maybe shouldn’t be in.

    Developing the software to help us through our programs was a good investment. It also took the heat off the people that were preforming well and the cause of the overruns when the program fell behind or ran over costs.

    The historical data for programs finished are a valuable asset to any organization because that will help you to stop making the same mistakes when you don’t do something very often.

    Last, if you have multiple programs running concurrent having good software is a blessing because it will help you acclimate quickly as you jump from program to program. Really good software can be set-up to help identify conflicts that might develop between concurrent programs.

    So I have chosen to manage the last minute ideas because they will always happen when you have a dynamic team or if the team is inexperienced.

  5. Resigned from a ministry I helped plant for THIS reason Phil. Last minute ideas and how about the ongoing expectations to fuel too many programs/initiatives with too few creative resources. This isn’t just a church thing though! As a branding and film specialist I’ve worked with Hollywood VIPs and billion dollar execs who try to do the very same thing during projects. The nature of leadership?

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