When working to improve your company culture, one of the most important things to consider is autonomy. Fostering autonomy can bring significant benefits, such as showing your employees that they are trusted to perform to a high standard. Businesses with low levels of autonomy often have a lack of trust among their staff.
In a work environment, autonomy is about how much freedom an individual has while working, and can vary from person to person. Certain roles tend to come with more autonomy than others. Sales roles, for example, involve high levels of autonomy, as the employee will need to tailor their pitch to the customer. Other roles, such as lab technicians or someone working in a production line, have less autonomy by necessity.
Benefits of Workplace Autonomy
Some leaders prefer to have a fair amount of control over the everyday running of the business, and may therefore feel threatened by an autonomous workforce. However, there are a number of advantages to encouraging autonomy. We’ve explored three of the main benefits below:
1. Free Up Management Time
Making your employees more self-sufficient will typically mean freeing up time for managers. This in turn can allow managers to work on larger projects that can add value to the business. Any time saved can be beneficial - as they say, time is money!
2. You Can See Better Results
Allowing employees to use their initiative can lead to outstanding results. For example, at the company 3M, employees are allocated time during the working day where they can ‘chase rainbows’ and come up with innovative ideas. It was during this allotted time that the Post-It was invented.
3. The Team is Easier to Manage
As a business owner, you may appreciate having an autonomous team, as it will generally mean they’re much easier to manage. You won’t need to be constantly checking to see that each individual knows what they’re doing, as they’ll simply get on and do it! In fact, according to an article from Entrepreneur, greater autonomy can lead to improved performance, innovation and creativity.
Encouraging Autonomy at Work
If you wish to encourage your employees to be more autonomous, there are several strategies you can put in place. To help you get started, we’ve outlined five ways to encourage autonomy below:
1. Clearly Communicate Your Vision
The first step to creating a more autonomous work environment is to ensure your colleagues know the end outcome you’re aiming for. If they know the goal they need to work towards, they can keep this in mind when making independent decisions.
Without clear direction, your staff are likely to make poor choices, which may then mean you or your management team need to step in and get things back on track. Not having targets can additionally lead to individuals working at odds with one another, which can in turn lead to conflict.
2. Provide the Tools for Autonomy
People can only work autonomously if they are trusted by the leadership team. This means that managers need to tell employees what to do, not necessarily how. Micromanaging a project implies that you don’t trust the abilities of your staff, and is far from motivating.
In terms of allowing your colleagues to succeed, help them find out for themselves the best ways to approach a project, rather than going through the steps you’d personally take. You can do this by providing tools, such as checklists, extensive training, and the right software. It’s also important to be explicit about which tasks will need sign-off, and which won’t.
3. Hire the Right People
If you’re looking to foster an autonomous atmosphere, bear in mind that some people are more comfortable working independently than others. This could be due to the individual themselves, or people may be influenced by previous jobs - they may be used to working in an autonomous environment.
You can therefore make an effort to hire people who are happy to work independently. These new employees can then be good role models, influencing other staff members to become more autonomous at work.
4. Support Professional Development
Employees can show more autonomy if they are allowed to take control of their own development, through things like career development plans. If you’re able to help staff to fill in any gaps in their knowledge or skill set, they’ll be able to do their jobs more efficiently, and hopefully become more autonomous.
It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to development plans though - these have to be personalised. Not everyone will have the same areas in which they need to improve, or the same strengths.
5. Think Outside the Box
Autonomy at work isn’t just about daily tasks. Staff can also be autonomous in other aspects of their job, such as in their working hours. A flexible working policy will allow people to work on a schedule that suits their lifestyle. You may also wish to provide the option of working from home on a regular or occasional basis.
Visualisation can also be a good technique when it comes to autonomy - focus on what you’re looking to achieve. Encourage your staff to consider the areas in which they are most confident, and foster a growth mindset in terms of autonomy.