Autonomy (Part 1 of 2)


When you start to study engagement at a deeper level, you start to notice that one concept continues to pop up - autonomy. It is at the core of engagement and satisfaction (although it is not the only element). Think about micromanagement, which is universally despised, and you see it is painful because it doesn't give the employee any option.

Why are managers so bad at this? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer, but there are some very reasonable solutions. The key is that the manager has to learn to give enough information so the employee can do the job how they see fit and then provide the proper feedback to enable the employee to grow.

When I discuss setting expectations, I always say "avoid the how". This means managers have to discuss the who, what, why, and when. If managers can do this well, they've set the expectation and can let the employee do it in a way that works for them (use their ideas, work with their schedule, etc.). This is the autonomy they want. If I give an employee a task on Monday and tell her I need it by Noon on Friday, I could care less when and where she does it. If she wants to do it at 2 am on Wednesday while sitting in a coffee house because that works for her, go for it. This control not only helps them feel engaged, but it lets them use their skills to the best of their ability. You'll get their best work when they feel this autonomy.

(Note: if she is working at 2 am because she wants to, great. If she is working at 2 am because I have given her an unreasonable amount of work, that is not ok.)

Once the task is completed, the manager should provide feedback. If it is good quality and meets the criteria I set, then I give positive feedback. This lets the employee know they did well so they can continue down that path the next time. If there are issues, I should provide negative feedback.

Remember, negative feedback is to get a better result next time, so it should be future focused, not a criticism of the past.

Managers struggle because they don't set proper expectations up front and then do a poor job of giving feedback at the end.

Tomorrow's post will be about Social Support, which should go along with autonomy to get the biggest impact.