How can I create a culture of autonomy in my business?

❮ Back to Blog 02 October 2018

Giving staff autonomy is essential for improving employee engagement. Without autonomy, your staff may end up wandering around not knowing to do next. Because they haven’t had any instruction. However, in the opposite direction, your staff are unlikely to react well to being told what to do all the time. And as such, having a balance is essential. In this post, Angelina Bell, a business coach, explains ways that a culture of autonomy can be developed within your business.

What exactly is autonomy?

At this point, you may be wondering what autonomy is? We believe that autonomy is defined by giving your staff power to shape their own working environment that will allow them to perform at the highest level possible.

And what isn’t autonomy?

Working by yourself without supervision isn’t autonomy. As is not working within a team or just doing as you please within your workplace without instruction. Or simialrly, believing you have total control over decision making.

Businesses that perform the best tend to have strong direction from supervisors and managers. And contrarily, badly performing ones lack poor leadership.

A truly autonomous organisation will always be producing a high standard of work. Rather than focussing entirely on how that work is being produced. Staff are likely to be most committed and happy are likely to have some level of autonomy regarding decision making. And furthermore, are more likely to remain within their job role.

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How can I encourage my employees to become more autonomous?
  1. Hire people with a high level of initiative. Being overly critical with staff mistakes can be negative on ways staff express initiative and moreover, engagement. If future growth of your organisation is important, it is critical to hire staff who use their initiative. Make sure not to be overly critical with mistakes as this can reduce the likelihood of your staff exercising initiative.
  2. Hire staff naturally engaging and autonomous. And furthermore, make sure all staff have the tools to complete their jobs to the best of their abilities. As such, your staff will be more willing to take risks, as well as innovate and try new things. A good example of this is the invention of the post-it note by 3M. Which was a product of a company scheme where staff were allowed to spend 15% of their working schedule on a personal project of their choosing.
  3. Build a culture of trust in your business. If your business has a culture of trust, it shows your employees they are in control of their own work. And the potential rewards that may come with it. Trust is a two way street. Although your manager must feel that they trust you, it also works the other way. Unfortunately, in many organisations however, the manager tends to dominate the work schedules of most employees. Perhaps as a result of not feeling they can trust their employees. And this can cause a lack of engagement amongst employees.
  4. Give your staff choice within clearly defined boundaries. Choice is essential to autonomy. However, too much choice can be bad. As staff will believe they have no boundaries whatsoever. Oppositely, setting boundaries ensures staff are able to complete tasks themselves with lesser input required from a manager or supervisor.
What other ways can I encourage my staff to become autonomous?
  1. Enable your employees to take ownership of their work. Offering autonomy to your staff allows them to better understand the meaning behind their work. For example, a business recently hired a highly talented college graduate who possessed some relevant technical skills that could be beneficial to the roll out of a new IT project within the company. The business gave this individual the opportunity to put his skills into action which led to the successful completion and rollout of a new system to replace an antiquated one. And into the bargain, the company was able to save several million dollars.
  2. Allow your employees to take 100% ownership of their work. Offering your staff higher levels of autonomy allows them to better understand the full meaning behind their work. E.g. After a business hired a highly talented college graduate with suitable technical skills, he was able to work on a new IT project. Replacing old ways of working with updated methods. When this was successfully rolled out, it resulted in the company saving several millions of pounds. So it goes to show that autonomy can go a long way.
  3. Make sure your employees have the tools required to successfully fulfil their job roles and achieve their goals. Do they require further training? Or new equipment for their job? Or even networking opportunities or new staff members to support them? All these things help build trust. The final step is to simply stand aside and let your employees work their magic! As a final pointer, make sure not to promise your staff member autonomy, then remove it at a later stage. Because this can be highly detrimental to employee engagement.
  4. Ensure your employees have the tools to successfully complete their jobs and achieve their goals. They may need more training or new equipment. Or perhaps even networking opportunities, or new members of staff to support them. The only remaining step is to step aside and let them do their stuff! Critically however, make sure not to make false promises of autonomy, then remove it later on. As this can be detrimental.

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