Join Todd Dewett for an in-depth discussion in this video Providing autonomy, part of Motivating and Engaging Employees.
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- Sometimes the best leadership advice is about what you say or do to your team. Other times, the best advice is about getting out of the way. Let's talk about autonomy, one of my favorite, free leadership tools. When referring to nations, autonomy refers to self-governance or independence. The same is true for employees at work. To give autonomy, means to give them room to do the work independently, as they see fit. Aside from times they really do need instruction, most adult employees want and appreciate autonomy, which is why it's amazing that so few leaders give much autonomy.
This fact is driven by two less than accurate assumptions. The first assumption is that the employee can't do the work at the same level of quality that you could do the work. Because you believe your skills are superior, you feel compelled to intervene more than necessary. The problem with this assumption is that it's sporadically true at best. Sometimes you're more of an expert on certain tasks. Other times, they are. In either case, you're missing the point, which is that you can't do everything. That's why you have a team working for you in the first place.
The second assumption involves timing and urgency. As the boss, you're rightly sensitive to deadlines because you're ultimately responsible for the team's work. As a result, you sometimes want to check in too quickly, to make sure you're employee understands that the deadline is approaching. If you do that too much, you're actually creating unnecessary pressure that slows them down, which is the opposite of what you wanted. The bottom line is that if you don't grant autonomy appropriately, your team will think you don't respect their abilities and professionalism.
The good news is that when you have a little faith and step back a little more to give them room to work independently, you'll see many benefits. Including: a strong feeling of ownership. Employees who perceive meaningful control over their work feel quite similar to small business owners. They identify with the work as theirs, not just something someone told them to do. They also have an increased sense of purpose. A feeling of ownership helps a person to believe their work matters and that's one of the most motivational ideas any person can possess.
This also drives a focus on duty and responsibility. Autonomy tends to make people feel a stronger, positive feeling of obligation to get the work done on time, on budget, and with high quality. By the way, it's not only the employee who benefits from autonomy. Organizations who understand autonomy as a component of effective leadership, are stronger competitors. Research suggests that they experience higher growth and better employee retention. Opportunities for you to provide autonomy are all around you.
Here are two quick ideas to get you started. First, anytime you give an employee new work to do, set yourself a goal for how long you'll wait before you go check in with them. Then, put it out of your mind and get focused on your own work until the right amount of time has passed. Another great idea is to identify a few special areas of work where you can completely let go, so they can totally own it. Think about the office Christmas party or portions of an employee development day or how about the employee recognition program.
All of these are great targets for increased autonomy. It's funny how we often get hung up on giving people costly things to motivate them, things like money or gift cards. The truth is, some of the best motivational tools are free. Autonomy is a great example. When you step back appropriately and give people a little more control, they appreciate the trust you're showing and it will show up in the quality of their work.
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- Assessing employee engagement
- Providing autonomy
- Building a transparent culture
- Modeling desired behavior
- Using monetary and nonmonetary motivators
- Fostering accountability
- Developing career paths for employees<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.