We can all picture the ideal studio team, comprised of ultra-talented individuals, each with well-defined roles and expectations that help them flourish, swooping into shoots and executing them with precision.
Well, when Creative Operations Podcast host Daniel Jester first met recent guest Tony Baker at a shoot in Los Angeles, he witnessed a team operating at that ideal. Daniel likened their unwavering efficiency to a heist unit and Tony's on-site leadership-hands-off and contemplative because the hard work of organizing the job had been accomplished long prior to the orchestrator of a cinematic caper.
Director of Product Imaging STITCH FIX
That's why Daniel asked Tony-now Stitch Fix's Director of Product Imaging, after years with Amazon and Nike-to pop by the Creative Operations Podcast and chat about leading, understanding, and supporting a creative team.Listen to the full chat on our siteor on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Amazon Music, or read on for a few pointers and takeaways.
Tell New Talent Why They're Here-and Explain Why They're Training
You want to hire the best people possible, and likely with specific roles in mind, but you know it may take time before you can craft roles and ready hires to perform in them at full capacity. So how do you place great creatives in training assignments that might feel patronizing?
For Tony, the chat goes like this: "OK, here's why we've hired you. Here's where we see the real benefit of having you on board," he explains. "But what we're going to do is, we're going to put you on this really boring set for one or two or three days so that you can learn the system."
If they know you see their talent and have a plan, they can view onboarding exercises as strengthening, not slighting. It's all about getting more reps on the job so that by the time hires are asked to work in their specialty, they've outgrown the learning pains of acclimating to your procedures and producing work that shows their abilities.
During Monotony, Find Development in the Details
When Tony opened Amazon Fashion Studio, even he questioned if his love of photography meshed with the schedule to shoot a half million images per year. But he found satisfaction in mastering small details. "Even shooting product on white, that's an opportunity to do the most simple thing very, very well," he says.
That mindset, to use monotony as a chance for mastery, is one Tony made contagious to his team, and a selling point for getting ultra-creative photographers to engage in this type of product imagery. Use an entire day to obsess about how the model's hips lay, Tony explains, or notice the most subtle details about a model's shoulders. "The joke that we had amongst the photographers and myself was like, 'Oh yeah? Watch this. You think I can't make a beautiful image of this model on white? Watch what happens now,'" he says.
He calls those opportunities for obsession a "sanctuary" for the highly accomplished photographers who used them to make all of their art better.
Use KPIs for Role Development, Not Employee Scrutiny
Tony uses metrics not in a fear-based way-weaponizing them in employee evaluation-but as a way to collaboratively develop roles: "What we can do is come back to these creative contributors on a regular basis with KPIs and say, 'Hey, actually, you know what? We thought we were going to see the best results putting you on this type of set, but it turns out you excelled over here on this type of set, actually with these two or three other contributors. What do you think about that?'"
We can...come back to these creative contributors...with KPIs and say, '...we thought we were going to see the best results putting you on this type of set, but it turns out you excelled over here on this type of set. What do you think about that?' -Tony Baker
That last question isn't rhetorical. Tony sees this role-oriented use of KPIs as a chance for feedback about their level of fulfillment in their current position. It all starts with an attitude of encouraging more than merely evaluating.
"As a creative leader, you have to know how to use that data to continually encourage your team, which will continue to give you better work, which you hope brings the company more success," Tony says.
As a creative leader, you have to know how to use that data to continually encourage your team, which will continue to give you better work, which you hope brings the company more success. -Tony Baker
You may be ready to run a heist with your studio team now. But to hear what Tony has gleaned from a Dutch track coach, how he approached his staff's career development during the pandemic, and what photographers hold in common with Sir Paul McCartney, you'll want to listen to Tony's full chat with Daniel.Get it hereor on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever else you might get your podcasts.