Increased autonomy in the workplace leads to greater innovation, productivity and employee satisfaction. But it also presents several cultural challenges. Find out how to establish a strong company culture around autonomy and individualization.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
Let me explain. I recently attended a meeting that included some of our newest employees, most of them students who work here while attending university.
They made a great impression, with outstanding reflections about our product positioning, marketing strategy and market trends. They weren’t afraid to provide their opinions and offer input.
One topic they were particularly passionate about was the ability to be one’s self in the workplace and, as an employee, to do their jobs the way they choose. Little did they know I was planning to discuss autonomy in my next blog and was searching for a good lead-in. They had just given it to me.
Organizations everywhere are discarding the old “command-and-control” management structure. You know, the one where the boss peers over your shoulder, telling you how, when, where and how hard to work.
Instead, they’re granting knowledge workers unprecedented autonomy to do their jobs the way they see fit. It’s a great motivational tool, and it’s helping create happier, more fulfilled and more productive employees. Which helps organizations become more agile, productive and innovative.
With added autonomy, workers are free to individualize their work practices. That means they’re responsible for every decision related to getting their work done — from the tools and technologies they select, to the hours they work, to the location they work from, to the sequence in which they perform their work. In short, they’re in charge.
Put simply, organizations are increasingly no longer concerned with how workers do their jobs, just that they do them very well and on time.
Importance of Culture
The most important challenge to autonomous work is culture. With increased worker autonomy and decreased management oversight, the future of the organization is in the hands of workers who are largely flying below the radar.
That got me wondering. Which cultural traits not only support individualization but also help employees better connect to their workplace and the organization?
While reflecting on our new employees and this issue, I saw an article titled “Why Should Anyone Work Here?” in the Financial Times. The article cites a new book that’s now on my “read-while-on-a-plane” list. The book discusses workplace culture and, based on four years of research into successful organizations, defines six company attributes that employees say are important to them:
- Difference — Employees want to be themselves and be able to express their differences.
- Radical honesty — They want to know what is going on within the organization.
- Extra value – Workers seek an organization that magnifies their strengths and fosters personal development.
- Authenticity — They want to work for a company that stands for something.
- Meaning – They want to perform meaningful work.
- Simple rules – They dislike too many rules and ones that apply to some and not others.
In short, DREAMS. Just as my meeting with our young employees illustrated, individualization — the ability to be yourself in the workplace – is critical. This individualization at work will amount to even more if we combine it with honest communication, continuous learning and a strong and meaningful purpose.
For some managers this might sound like a nightmare, but it’s sweet music to my ears. Especially since I know that even the youngest hires, our newest talents, will succeed if we just enable autonomy.