Most celebrated columnist and cartoonist Frank Tyger says, “Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness.” Autonomy brings both to the workplace.
Autonomy at work is about bestowing employees with discretion and independence to schedule their work and to regulate how it is to be done on their own terms.
“Autonomy is not anarchy. It requires accountability, rewards, and governance. It’s just not driven top down. It’s self-administered.”
Traditionally exercised by senior level employees, autonomy is about decentralization. In modern organizational structures, such as self-managed, shared authority, and flatter organizations, autonomy on the job translates into increased job satisfaction.
The more autonomy employees have, the more devoted towards work they become. With autonomy you also experience reduced relational barriers between people. Studies show that more autonomous company structures translate into the best financial company performance.
“When people have more choices to shape their working environment, they are happier, more committed, engaged in their jobs, more productive and most loyal to the organization.”
How to Create a More Autonomous Organization
The first step towards achieving organizational autonomy is to hire autonomous people. Hire people who can naturally engage without the need for commands, controls, or rigid structures. Simply provide them with what they need. Let them know what is expected. Reward them when they take risks that translate into learning and growing opportunities, and let them be.
Finally, treat them and respect them as grown adults worthy of trust in their abilities as autonomous employees.
When management doesn’t trust people, it turns to micromanagement tactics. Watching people constantly, and trying to control every step. People feel treated more like machines which ultimately limits their desire and ability to contribute value.
“Treat people with respect by not referring to them as assets, resources, capital, or things to be leveraged.”
The other aspect to properly implement autonomy at work is to handle mistakes with patience. Hyper-critical management is destructive to people’s morale. It kills self-initiative, and consequently employee engagement.
“Employee engagement is crucial for companies to achieve success.”
Giving employees toys to play with together isn’t going to increase engagement. Setting them free to be themselves and encouraging collaboration without top-down controls will increase engagement.
The key to creating autonomy at work is to give lots of choices with clear expectations and mutually agreed goals and timelines. Without mutual agreements among the people involved, you can end up with lack of coordination, irregularities and in severe cases, anarchy.
“A strong system to hold each other accountable, is essential for autonomy to flourish.”
For example, at Nearsoft we have this understanding that no one person can fire you, but anyone can fire you. Autonomous teams thrive on the commitment to help each other win.
There is an implicit sense of accountability to each other. Unlike traditional command and control structures, where someone can literally hide out for months from the boss, there is no hiding out in a shared-authority team environment.
Most companies have co-dependent leadership models which aren’t healthy or empowering. On the other side of this spectrum, complete independence can translate into chaos. What has proven to work is interdependence.
Autonomy Equals Loyalty
Allocating autonomy to employees creates a sense of implied responsibility. With increased autonomy, employees feel more accountable for the results. This sense of responsibility brings out the most creative side of people.
In addition to more creativity, other personality traits such as conscientiousness and extroversion come to life as well.
“More autonomy results in increased productivity due to the sense of ownership it creates.”
Autonomy is the mother of amazing inventions. In a controlled environment, working robots taking direction will never be able to innovate. Control kills employees’ talents.
One of the best inventions coming out of autonomy in our modern age is 3M’s Post-It Notes. It was discovered by a scientist during off-time allocated by the company for employees to pursue their own ideas.
Google used to give 20% time to its people to do something on their own that could add to the company’s value.
“There is a virtuous cycle between autonomy and motivation. Google’s AdSense and Gmail were outcomes of more autonomy.”
By providing autonomy, an organization expresses trust in the decisions and actions of their employees. With autonomy, people become highly motivated to express themselves fully. They step up, and explore the best ways to accomplish tasks.
When an employee is assigned a project, and is given complete autonomy to get the best results in that project, it is natural for that employee to start owning that project. This sense of ownership creates a more personal relationship between the employee and the organization.
As people begin to feel their part in the success of the company, they develop a stronger desire to stay attached to those accomplishments.
“The attachment to the success of the company translates into long-lasting loyalty.”
In various studies, autonomy has been found to foster job satisfaction. Employees with freedom in the workplace feel happiness and enjoy their work. The workplaces where employees’ suggestions are counted, and actions are appreciated, become the best places to work.
A sense of options and choice allows people to accomplish tasks wholeheartedly rather than acting on command. They want to work in an autonomous environment forever.
“By giving autonomy, organizations invite their employees to contribute to the success of the company, instead of dictating it. Working directly for the success of the company rather than working on managerial orders, creates an emotional attachment for employees.”
In recent years, more organic structures rely on autonomy, empowerment, and participation of the employees to succeed. Autonomy creates a sense of responsibility that motivates employees to fulfill their responsibility with the desire for the company’s success.
When their performance is appreciated, and they are rewarded with more autonomy, they work even harder. They start feeling an urge to be a considerable part of the success of the company. Employees get more engaged with their work, and the overall performance of the company, and they keep thinking up more innovative ways to contribute.
Autonomy at work results in increased emotional attachment with the company and loyalty.
Companies who make an effort to create an autonomous work environment, are most likely to end up with more devoted and loyal employees who will be most concerned about the success of the business.