Do the policies at your company create a culture of independence or a culture of powerlessness?
Take this section from one company’s housekeeping policy:
Each employee is allowed to have only one personal 8×10 photo frame at his or her workstation, as long as it contains appropriate pictures and does not get in the way of work. You may put as many pictures in the frame as you like. No plants or any other non-company décor is allowed at workstations.
You may have water or soft drinks at your desk provided they are in company cups or containers. Please use the break room or go off-site to eat food.
Now, you probably don’t try to enforce policies like these, but there may be more you can do to help your employees work more autonomously. To set them up for self-guided success, your business culture has to support independent thinking and creativity.
Here are a few suggestions for encouraging employee independence without losing control.
1. Set expectations, clearly. Without performance goals, a hands-off leadership style can harm productivity and make employees feel disjointed in their efforts. Use a top-down strategy with your business objectives and be able to explain to your employees how their projects are helping address those wider goals. It’s also important to explain why you want your business to move in a certain direction to give employees additional context for their roles.
2. Understand your employees’ changing expectations, too. Today, employees are thinking of how each job contributes to the overall picture of their career – their employee brand. They want to achieve big wins for you, but they also want to be able to carry notable experiences into future jobs. Without much independence, their personal successes feel tough to measure. This could cause them to leave your company for another that offers more opportunities for professional growth.
3. Know that all jobs aren’t the same when it comes to autonomy. Don’t feel like you have to force independence on certain roles. The core functions of accounting jobs, for instance, rely on best practices and regulations that don’t need to be reimagined.
4. Give your expected outcomes, and then pull back. Trust your employees, and they may start to develop the same feelings of ownership toward your business that you have. Once you’ve laid out general guidelines, key elements, and the time frame for a new project, let your employees do the rest. Allow them to reach the goal in ways that might be new to you.
5. Expect failures. Your employees won’t be confident in their work without your trust. Expect them to make mistakes. Learn to see a $500 blunder as part of your training budget. Your employees will learn from their mess-ups, and you will too.
6. Loosen up. Also take a look at the lifestyle requirements that affect your employees. Giving them flex scheduling options or permission to decorate their workspace can make them feel much more entrusted and responsible in the rest of their work.
7. Deal with problems case-by-case. When an employee takes too much liberty, talk to him or her directly rather than sending out a blanket warning by email or laying down a new company-wide policy. It hurts your current and future employees’ morale when rules change over a single person’s error.
We know that self-chosen goals lead to a stronger sense of intrinsic motivation. And autonomy allows employees to set higher standards for themselves, which in turn leads to innovation.
Trust your employees, and they will start to develop the same feelings of ownership toward your business that you have.
What would you do with the extra time if your employees were more independent? With dedicated HR support from Insperity, you can start imagining the possibilities.