How to Cultivate Autonomy In Your Organization

Micromanaging employees can be the bane of a small business. Not only can it reduce employees’ confidence in themselves and in the leader’s ability to lead, but it can also devalue workplace appreciation, making workers feel unmotivated in their jobs and undervalued by their bosses.

Delegating, on the other hand, might be both the least-practiced leadership skill by small business owners and the greatest asset to business growth. So if you find it difficult to relinquish control, focus instead on what can be gained by “backing off.”

Micromanaging Suffocates Solutions

A study by the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University looked at the stress levels of employees compared with their levels of autonomy. It determined that there was a 15.4 percent increased likelihood of early death for employees who had little control over their demanding jobs. This emotional impact reveals the wide-reaching consequences that restriction, through both implicit and explicit controls and influences, can have.

While general workplace rules and policies are necessary for efficient functioning and safety, autonomy in the workplace translates to accountability—and accountability translates to engagement.

According to a report from Harvard Business Review, 71 percent of executives surveyed considered employee engagement to be vital to business success. Employees with more latitude can often find innovative solutions that can make the company more competitive. Moreover, according to Gallup, a broad range of potential benefits—including greater commitment, better performance, improved productivity and lower turnover—can come from empowering employees.

Fostering a Culture of Autonomy

Knowing exactly how to empower employees through delegation can be difficult. My company started small. We first created for employees minor decision-making opportunities that had a powerful and positive impact. Now that we’ve grown, we regularly meet to discuss more significant decision-making opportunities and give teams evaluations on how well they perform—not how many hours they spend at work.

As important as it is to implement a culture of autonomy, it’s even more important to foster one. Here are three ways leaders can start creating toward more autonomous workforces:

1. CULTIVATE AN EXECUTIVE MINDSET. Consistently meeting to share what’s going on at the big-picture level helps everyone to understand the goals of the organization and how his or her specific role contributes to the organization’s overall success.

Even annual or semiannual reviews shouldn’t be standardized. Instead, use them to identify concrete opportunities for individual growth, and align that growth explicitly with the company’s mission and values.

Our company’s core values—happiness, honesty, empathy, loyalty and passion—were developed as a team to reinforce the unity in our organization. They are also an essential part of everything we do and really foster workplace engagement, a necessary step when considering that only 33 percent of U.S. employees currently feel engaged.

2. PILOT NEW IDEAS. According to a survey of 500 American workers, 77 percent crave the opportunity to contribute ideas and solutions. Plus, presenting new challenges and opportunities will reveal hidden talents, help individuals reach their full potential, and encourage independent decisions.

Perhaps more importantly, create and implement initiatives that are egalitarian in nature—e.g., offer opportunities for testing and revision at multiple levels—and flexible enough to keep pace with your company’s dynamic culture. But don’t be afraid to eliminate concepts if they’re not panning out.

3. RESPECT YOUR BOUNDARIES. Don’t babysit employees or solve new challenges for them, but do check in and listen to them.

At Rocksauce, we find that our performance evaluations are a great way to measure accountability and autonomy. During evaluations, we ask employees questions like: Are you meeting design and development standards? Are you consistently keeping the team and clients happy? If our employees answer, “yes” to these questions, then teams are granted the freedom to control their workflow.

Being able to back off and let our people work means believing in their abilities, trusting our own hiring intuition and understanding that everyone brings experiences to the workplace that can be truly enlightening.

While micromanaging is the boa constrictor of new business development, thoughtful delegation is a key to success. Use these tips to foster a more autonomous, trusting environment.

As chief relationship officer at Rocksauce Studios, Michael Manning leads the charge on invigorating loyalty, happiness and customer engagement from within.

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