Autonomy can be defined as the condition of self-governance—that people have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions. It is the antithesis of micromanagement and the sooner your organisation and its leadership learn of its benefits and how to implement it, the happier and better performing team you will have.
With increased flexibility and organisations moving to remote or hybrid working, more and more people find autonomy as one of the deciding factors of whether to join or stay with a company.
As Steve Jobs once said, “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do.”
One may argue that as human beings we are naturally autonomous. We cherish our liberties and that extends to both our personal and professional lives.
True autonomy is closely associated with trust, integrity, respect and a culture of accountability.
Autonomy in a workplace is not about people doing whatever they like, it is about achieving important organisational goals in a way that benefits both the company and the people who make up that company. It is less about what gets done and more about how. The management team still needs to show leadership and define company’s strategy and objectives. That said, if you give your employees more autonomy, while having a clear vision of where you want to be as an organisation, and what needs to be achieved, you will not only have a better buy into your company’s vision and mission, but also a happier and more productive team.
The benefits of creating a culture of autonomy are plentiful.
Some of those are:
– Employees who see increased impact from their performance are more interested in what they do. This leads to increased engagement and commitment.
– Employees who are given more freedom to manage tasks improve their work-life balance and overall job satisfaction.
– Employees who are trusted and trust their employers tend to be more loyal and less likely to leave. They also tend to have a better understanding of the needs of the business and their own impact on the company. Lower turnover translates to lower labour costs and loss of productivity associated with having vacant roles and training new hires.
– Empowering employees to be self-starters, results in more work getting done. Your team will give more, do more and be more.
– When employees are challenged, personal development and professional progress improves.
– A move towards a more agile and innovative organisation. Allowing your teams to do things differently and relying on their individual capabilities will create a more responsive company.
– Increased autonomy translates into happier and more engaged teams, which will be visible to your colleagues, as well as customers, and have an impact on satisfaction, quality and the bottom line.
– Better succession planning – having autonomous workforce highlights the future leaders and exhibits better individual strengths and weaknesses. This makes hiring to complement organisational capabilities easier and helps create a less reactionary talent acquisition strategy.
There are many ways you can create an autonomous workforce in your organisation. Here are a few examples:
– Although we often need to work to deadlines, whenever possible, offer freedom and flexibility on how and when work gets done. Set expectations on what is needed and let your team come up with the solution to the problem.
– Trust your people – if you trusted their capabilities when you decided to bring them into your company, let them deliver on their tasks and trust their judgement. Empower your teams.
– Create the right environment and support rather than exert control. Learn how to delegate and ask for help.
– Hire autonomous people. Creating an environment that encourages autonomy is the best long term strategy. Yet, to foster that culture and accelerate the changes you want to see, you need to bring people with the right mindset.
– Grant employees ownership of their projects. This creates a sense of pride.
– Promote open communication and provide and ask for feedback. It helps keep things on track and creates learning and development opportunities.
– Offer reward and praise – everyone needs recognition for their contribution.
– Create a culture of accountability. Set clear goals and targets. Define, together, what needs to be done and by when.
– Importantly, equip your teams with the ability to work autonomously. Give them the right skills and tools – provide the right hardware and software and access to learning materials, training, mentoring and support from the management.
The world of work has changed irreversibly. The pandemic has highlighted the need for a more autonomous workforce. Some companies found the transition easier, for others it is still a challenge. Yet, one thing remains clear – whether your company prefers the hybrid or fully remote way of working, the competition for talent has increased, and more and more often autonomy, or the lack of it are deciding factors of whether to join, stay or leave.