As a manager your task is to manage people. Not tasks. This can be difficult as it requires you to cease telling your staff how to do their job and instead establish the strategic direction, deadlines and milestones that allow them to achieve the objectives of their role. Not always an easy feat to accomplish, but essential to building a highly successful team.
Now let’s talk about autonomy in the workplace for a moment. It is not the act of providing finite details about how to undertake a task and then walking away and leaving that person to carry out your instructions to the letter. No. It is a person’s perception that they have a choice on how to achieve a goal. Holding people accountable for stated objectives will see them driving the details of how expectations are met, while you as a manager provide the resources required to achieve those desired outcomes.
Allowing workers to drive how they get from A to B may have you believing you are giving up control. This is not the case. You need to push aside those feelings of insecurity and trust in the competency of your workforce. Telling your staff what to do and how to do it will create an army of robots totally dependent upon your ability to drive them in every task. And that is not something that any manager can sustain long term. Nor would they want to! If you are a manager that likes to micromanage staff, you need to stop. This domineering style of enforcing rigid boundaries will impede the growth and development of your team. They will not want to take on new responsibilities and will fail to realise their full potential.
A team who has the ability to drive themselves to excel is a team who perceives value in what they do. Countless studies have shown that one’s greatest motivation and personal satisfaction comes from the goals that we have chosen for ourselves. Furthermore it is proven that the intrinsic motivation derived from self-defined goals increases both our enjoyment and our engagement with our work, giving us greater job satisfaction. And when we love our job, we take on extra responsibilities and strive harder to reach our potential, particularly in the face of a testing situation.
But let us pause for a moment to consider the effects of too much autonomy. A distinct lack of direction may be misconstrued for disorganisation and incompetence. It may result in a lack of cohesion, attention and wasted efforts. And not every individual is suited to having freedom on how to achieve company goals. Some of us need constant drive and encouragement. This may also apply to teams. If some team members have a preference for working alone, they may disengage from the group, negatively affecting communication, innovation and productivity. Yet when a workplace is receptive to a self-driven business environment, teams who work well together can enhance each other’s strengths while simultaneously compensate for each other’s weaknesses, leading to an enriched and cooperative workplace.
Another, and perhaps unexpected, bonus of an autonomous working culture is the health benefits it creates. Research has proven that employees with a higher level of autonomy in their work reported an improvement in their overall well-being. From sleeping better and longer, to having increased energy and lower stress levels. Such a boost to our system would certainly see the workplace a much more pleasant place to be.
No doubt the way in which a manager frames information or situations will influence an employee’s perception of whether they have the autonomy to carry out the tasks and responsibilities of their role as they see fit, or if their abilities are being undermined. A good manager will simply communicate what is to be achieved, provide the tools to succeed and then get out of the way. Yet autonomy in the workplace will not simply drive motivation levels, it will summon a workforce to learn, generate innovative ideas and push potential far beyond expectation. It’s an exciting prospect, but can you find the balance between control and providing the right autonomous environment? Let me give you a tip, employees are not your puppets. So grab your scissors and cut those strings.