Creative Growth Management. (Episode 93.)

Creative Growth Management. (Episode 93.)

Interview with Imani Perera, Vice President – Head of Learning and Development at John Keells Group.


The feeling one gets when one has an idea or when one pursues a creative endeavor might just be one of the most rewarding, inspiring, and self-fulfilling activities that a human being can engage in.

Being creative makes us feel alive, like nothing else.

When you consider the uniquely positive effect that creativity can have on human beings, it’s easy to see that organizations should invest much more in making sure that its people are fully developing, and getting an outlet for, their creative abilities.

Thus, the concept of “Creative Growth Management” (CGM).

I learned about CGM from Ms. Imani Perera, Vice President – Head of Learning and Development at John Keells Group, one of Sri Lanka’s largest companies.

In my inspiring conversation with Ms Perera, it very quickly became clear that she is passionate about developing people. When I asked her to expand her thoughts around “Creative Growth Management” (CGM) she said: “Creative Growth is one of the really strong factors that will get a person to stay. It can ignite things in a person that they did not know was there. There is so much room for expansion in a person who gets to develop their creative abilities.”

By making people feel that they are growing creatively, you could massively impact their will to stay at an organization.

“Organizations really should invest in the creative growth of their staff, because few things create a bigger sense of fulfillment than creative growth – especially if it is being acknowledged.”

And then she added: “When you create something creative at work you have a strong sense of having contributed something of value. It gives a sense of achievement. Being creative strikes a cord with people.”

That is why the process of Creative Growth Management can be so powerful. By helping people develop creatively they grow in a very rewarding way.

So if CGM is so powerful then why aren’t HR departments investing more time and resources into it? According to Imani Perera one answer is that many HR departments are stuck in managing too many internal processes and too busy with constant daily HR-firefighting.

When I asked Imani Perera for some tips of how to think about Creative Growth Management she mentioned three things.

1) Get the fundamentals right.

Ms Perera wisely put CGM into context by saying: “(HR) first needs to get the basics right, things like the right remuneration, the right opportunities, a good work/life balance, etc – but after that is in place focus should go to CGM.”

2) Have an agile mindset.

To be able to develop creativity in others HR also needs to be creative. You cannot develop the creativity in others unless you have first developed it in yourself.

3) Take a leap of faith.

It’s important for HR – which sometimes tends to be cautious – to understand that for creativity you – per definition – do not know the answer, but to develop creative skills you need to dare to take the plunge and try new things, and to let others try new things.

One way in which John Keells Group helps its employees manage their creative growth is by moving people around not just different positions, but different industries, and since the group has operations in so many different industries (from Transportation, Leisure, Property Development, Consumer Foods and Retail, Financial Services, Information Technology, and Plantations), employees of the group can really try different things. A manager working in the transportation sector can move into a category management role in the retail sector and become aware of talents and strengths she had no idea she had.

It’s easy to say that companies should help employees develop their creativity, but an important part of Creative Growth Management is also to make sure that the employees themselves take part in their own creative growth.

When I ask Imani Perera for advice on what employees can do themselves, she mentions three things that I summarise as follows:

1) Stay curiously educated.

Ms Perera: “To stay curiously educated means that you are not just curious about new things, but make an effort to understand how they can best be used in practice. That you explore what’s out there and teach yourself the relevance of what you see.”

2) Analyse your creative growth potential.

Where do you need to grow? Who do you need to speak to?

What do you need to learn?

Getting people to reflect on their own creative growth journey is the only way that the journey will happen. Creative growth is a very personal journey.

3) Take ownership of your own creative growth.

Keep asking yourself if you have really explored what needs to be explored if you have proactively expanded your network, if you have done your research and so on. Creative growth management is the responsibility of the company – but also the responsibility of the individual.”

In summary: Creative Growth Management is one of the strongest and most powerful tools that a company has when it comes to creating an environment where people feel seen, inspired and fulfilled – but creative growth will really only happen if people take responsibility for it themselves. From that follows that one of the most important things an organization can do to develop its people, is to help them engage in developing their own creative growth.

How much is your organization doing that?

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