The Power Of Autonomy


Autonomy is people’s need to perceive that they have choices, independence or freedom.That what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions. The way leaders present information and situations either increases the likelihood that a person will perceive autonomy or undermines it.  “Autonomy is the antithesis of micromanagement,” writes Joan F. Cheverie, manager of professional development programs at the higher education and IT nonprofit EDUCAUSE. It may also be the best way to ensure your employees are happy at work.

In the context of workplaces, autonomy means a job where you can make some decisions on your own. The amount of autonomy an employee has will vary. It can be choosing the projects which you will handle or deciding the time and place where you will do your work. The perception of autonomy – that you have choices and that not everything is decided for you is important to the vast majority of workers. But no matter how you define autonomy, or to what extent you are allowed to operate of your own volition, the feeling of latitude by employees has very impressive results. A greater commitment to work, higher productivity and a general increase in performance are just a few results of autonomy.

Employees who want their staff to perform at their highest potential should know that telling them not just what to do, but also how to do it is not going to achieve lasting results. In the short term, this approach might work, but it’s just not sustainable. Studies show that the greatest motivation and personal satisfaction comes from those goals that we choose for ourselves. Self-chosen goals create a specific kind of motivation called intrinsic motivation – the desire to do something for its own sake. When people are intrinsically motivated, they find greater enjoyment in what they are doing, they are more engaged with their work, and they have higher job satisfaction. Here are some proven ways to let your team have autonomy.

First let them understand WHY:

Rarely does anyone really commit to a goal if he/she doesn’t see why it’s desirable to do so in the first place. First, and most obviously, your employees need to understand why the goal they’ve been assigned has value. Don’t assume that the why is as obvious to your team as it is to you. Too often, managers tell their employees what they need to do, without taking the time to explain why it’s important, or how it fits into the bigger picture.  No one ever really commits to a goal if they don’t see why it’s desirable for them to do it in the first place.  Don’t assume the why is as obvious to your team as it is to you.

Set the goal and let them decide the methods:

When the management determines the goals to be achieved, it’s a good practice to allow the staff decide just how they will attain that goal. This will give them that feeling of choice necessary for motivating them intrinsically. Let your staff tailor their approach according to their preferences and abilities. This will also give them an increased sense of control over the situation they find themselves in, which will in turn affect their performance positively. If you feel uncomfortable giving them free reign, you could also try giving them a choice between two options for how to proceed.  

Let them decide other aspects of the project:

In a scenario where you have to assign both goal and method for reaching it, you can still create the feeling of choice, though it will require you to be more creative. Let your staff make decisions about the more secondary aspects of the project. An example is if your team has to create articles on topics which have already been decided. You could let them choose the particular topics to write on from the pool of created topics. Studies show that these more peripheral decisions create a feeling of choice, even when the choices aren’t particularly meaningful or relevant to the goal itself.

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