Leading with Autonomy, Not Micromanagement

Passion led us here.jpg

What is autonomy?

A good working definition for organizations is this: Employee autonomy is having a level of accountable freedom and discretion over one's work and job duties.

Some may refer to this as empowerment or independent work.  

But whatever you call it, a key question we would like to explore is, why is autonomy so important?

“Research going back decades consistently shows that job autonomy—the amount of discretion you have to determine what you do and how you do it—is one of the most important predictors of job satisfaction and work motivation, frequently ranking as more important even than pay. Job autonomy also positively affects job performance, in part by increasing motivation and partly by permitting people to use all of their capacities and information to do the work in the best way possible.” - Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stanford University Graduate School of Business

In his new book, Dying for a Paycheck, Professor Pfeffer also addresses the benefits of job autonomy in providing a quality work environment, reduced stress, and better employee health.   

BE GREAT LLC’s recent proprietary research studies of 900 companies across all industries and in both public and private organizations have for the first time, we believe, thoroughly analyzed how this phenomenon affects the relationship between frontline managers and their individual direct reports. Employees participating in our studies stated that granting autonomy is one of the most important leadership behaviors their managers can use to improve employee performance and commitment. However, this behavior is frequently not included in leadership development curricula.   

To capture these benefits, managers at all levels of experience and tenure need to become much better at granting autonomy, and they need to do it more frequently. Our research showed that more than 50% of managers and team leaders at all levels of experience need to improve significantly. In fact, many managers, instead of granting their employees autonomy, are micromanaging them. And micromanagement, according to a recent 2015 Gallup study, is a key driver of employee disengagement and turnover. 

With all the benefits—and risks—involved, is job autonomy on your radar? Your strategies may include:

1. A set of values that supports employee autonomy as an integral part of your organization's culture and values.

2. Talent acquisition strategies that sustain a culture of accountable autonomy.

3. Organizational structures that require it.

4. Job responsibilities and task activities that enable it and hold employees accountable. 

5. Key performance indicators and compensation practices that drive this employee behavior.

6. Rewards and recognition that acknowledge and sustain this desired behavior.

7. Succession planning that promotes candidates that demonstrate it.

8. Health and wellness programs that enhance and benefit from it.

9. Measures that survey autonomy through employee feedback.

Is your organization developing the willingness and ability of frontline managers to grant accountable autonomy and not micromanage their team members? Do managers know when, how, and how much autonomy to grant? Do they know what triggers micromanagement and how to avoid succumbing to those temptations? Leading with Autonomy®, a new set of processes, behaviors, and tools, now provides an accessible, learnable and affordable framework for frontline managers at all experience levels.

Our goal with this blog is to raise the visibility of autonomy as a skill driven and enabled by frontline managers and also to enhance the quality of discussion on this critical topic. An important secondary topic is to recognize autonomy’s opposite—micromanagement.

Our team has actively led the research and development of many of the most successful frontline management and leadership development solutions at Zenger Miller, AchieveGlobal, and AchieveForum. We have collectively built over 100 discreet generic leadership solutions and countless custom programs. Based on our nearly 40 years of continuous experience in frontline manager leadership development, we believe that frontline-manager-led autonomy is a new paradigm that the leaders of today’s workforce require.  

In future blogs we will address discreet areas of our research and findings, and we will interview clients and industry experts to deconstruct a myriad of strategies for creating more effective frontline-manager-led employee autonomy. We hope to bring front and center a business case that supports the value of creating an autonomy-based workplace.

John Rovens and Andrew Rovens, Co-Founders, BE GREAT LLC.