According to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the number-one contributor to happiness in life is not money, popularity, good looks, or even a good sex life (too many…jokes…can’t pick…just…one).
The report defines autonomy as: “the feeling that your life, its activities and habits, are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”
A University of Michigan study found that empowered employees report a high level of job satisfaction and organizational commitment, lower turnover, increased performance effectiveness, and increased motivation.
Relatedly, supervisors who reported higher levels of empowerment were seen by their subordinates as more innovative, upward influencing, and inspirational.
It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Think of how you feel when you’re experiencing the opposite — being micro-managed. You probably don’t need research to tell you that being empowered is crazy energizing.
But it takes work to give away work. Here are eight ways to grant autonomy intelligently:
Fulfill the foundational requirements
Ensure a baseline of trust, a practice of information sharing, and a willingness to delegate growth work, not just grunt work. Employees have to feel stretched and feel the influence they have to truly feel empowered.
It might feel scary to give autonomy on critical work. Do it anyway.
Craft an agreement for autonomy
It helps to formalize the rules of engagement and operation in the handover of power. The agreement should include a basic set of expectations for the work, a definition of what falls under the umbrella of autonomy, and clear success criteria.
Facilitate recipient readiness
Just because employees are empowered doesn’t mean they’re set up to succeed. They may have difficulty accepting the new responsibilities for fear they’ll be overmatched or because they view the new responsibilities as an unwanted added burden.
So ensure your employees are ready to accept the responsibility. Provide training and resources and discuss the benefits of their newfound autonomy. Ease the fears of accountability that can come with empowerment by ensuring they’re set up to win — and confident that they will.
Provide intrinsic and extrinsic reward
More work without more reward is rarely welcome. And even if the work must be done, the motivation might not exist to do it. So ensure that there are intrinsic and extrinsic rewards baked into the new work.
Good ol’ fashioned rewards and recognition for the added responsibility can serve as the extrinsic motivator. Intrinsic rewards might include helping the employee see how they can use the the newly transferred power to develop their leadership skills and decision-making capabilities.
Facilitate by assisting success versus avoiding failure
Mistakes will be made when employees are given autonomy — and then learning happens. So don’t react poorly to their mistakes. Act as a facilitator, not a fixer, and allow delegated decisions to stick.
Avoid incessant oversight. The minute you start acting like you want people to avoid any miscues, the empowerment itself has failed.
Instead, shift to a mindset of assisting success. Help your empowered employees move quickly past mistakes as needed, and then turn your energy back to finding ways to help them succeed.
Construct communication loops
Breakdowns in communication can mean a breakdown in trust between you and the empowered employee. Autonomous employees shouldn’t go off the grid, but instead should find ways to report back regularly on progress.
Checkpoints should be established to provide updates, encouragement, help, training in teachable moments, and to avoid operational drift whereby work migrates away from previously aligned objectives and parameters.
Those working autonomously can’t forget to check in. You can’t just delegate and check out, either. Communication needs to remain a two-way street.
Covet communication loops
Communicate with your empowered employees in a manner such that they actually come to covet the communication loops in place over time, viewing them as helpful and rewarding.
Inquires? Sure. Inquisitions? No.
Tie a measurement tether
Periodically review progress on success criteria. It will keep you informed and the empowered motivated as they have tangible evidence they’re on track to hitting their goal.
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