Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

How to Sharpen Your Team's Professionalism Without Dulling Creativity

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It’s a familiar conundrum for startup owners. The workplace is unconventional, the employees are often young and enthusiastic, the organizational goals are lofty. There’s a lot of energy and positivity in the air.

Energy is good but it only gets results when it is channeled.

You want your workforce to be productive and professional. You don’t want to tie them down to rigid rules and policies for that to happen. This is especially important when your business thrives on creative flair.

Related: Professionalism: A Luxury for Corporate America, a Necessity for Entrepreneurs

Let’s look at what you can do to create a climate at your startup that emphasizes professionalism but without wearing down your employees or negatively affecting their creative streak.

Define "professionalism.'' Professionalism, you may be surprised to know, does not have a strict definition. It broadly means conducting oneself in an “agreeable” manner and abiding by company policies. There are details though, and they are seemingly endless and subjective.

Traditionally speaking, a professional employee is punctual, organized and reliable. He or she may not be brilliant but they  are expected to toe the line.

Don’t expect your workforce to know exactly what you mean by professionalism, especially if you are leading a multinational staff. That which is unthinkable in American offices may be more than fine elsewhere. To eliminate all confusion, articulate your expectations from your employees and keep reminding them until they get it right.

Know where to draw the line. In creative pursuits, one often runs into people who are brilliant at what they do but not-so-good at sticking to timetables. Are you willing to make an exception for the brilliant but ill-disciplined employee? Or are disorganized desks and coming in late deal breakers for you?

You ought to be very clear in your mind about what you are prepared to accept, and overlook, in the name of flexibility and creativity. I will be the first to admit that this is not easy to accomplish.

You will face more tricky situations than you can plan for. One has to go by their gut. A lot also depends on what is more important to you, the process or the end-result.

Related: Creating a Culture of Excellence

Know when to back off. Micromanagement is out-of-place at startups. If you are the kind who likes to be aware of what his employees are up to, set in place a system. Use a project management tool, such as Basecamp, to know of how the assigned tasks are coming along.

If everything is on schedule, your employees are online and available when you need them, leave it be, even if someone is typing out that important report sitting in the company café instead of on their desk.

Make the most of flexible schedules. It’s a great idea to offer your employees flexible schedules if they are finding it difficult to stick to the standard company hours. Flexible hours lead to a better work-life balance and happier employees on the whole. Flexible working hours are a boon for creative types who are often up until late in the night.

However, often with flexibility comes the problem of making people stick to your company policies. Before you realize it there are employees abusing the privilege. To get around this problem, gauge people by the quality of their output, not so much by when they arrive at work or the number of hours they put in every day.

If you are happy with their productivity and consider them an asset to your organization, it’s all right to let them stick to odd working hours and, sometimes, even unconventional working practices. If, on the other hand, someone’s work is suffering, or if you are not satisfied with the outcome, put your foot down. No flex hours for them. Some people need structure more than others.

Related: How to Build a Culture Like Google: 7 Practical Ideas From 'The Internship'

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks