People want to control their work hours, remote working, hybrid, in-office, and what they are responsible for. Employees will accept work schedules or conditions they don’t like because they feel forced to. Their reactions can range from begrudging acceptance and outright resentment.
But research has shown that people are more likely to work how they feel most comfortable and how they want to . This is a good thing for innovation and productivity. Employees react with an aversion to being subject to absolute mandates. For example, they don’t like the idea of everyone working in the same office. However, employees who feel they have more control, such as choosing their projects, respond with greater loyalty and better results.
Leaders don’t always realize that their power can reduce autonomy and that it can be difficult to let go of the old habits. How can executives and managers show that they are willing to give autonomy to their employees? Deborah Grayson Riegel is a global leadership coach and author of Get Help: 31 Strategies To Offer, Ask for, and Accept Help. She suggests three places where you can start.
Grant Blanket Permissions
Employees may find it demotivating and disempowering to be asked permission to enter an area where they have made independent decisions. Employees can lose autonomy after more than two years of “pandemic liberty.” Other examples include the resurgence in micromanagement and office politics when people come back together in person. People don’t need to ask permission if you are focusing on the outcomes. Riegel suggests that managers should not assert their control over details of work. Instead, the default position should be “Yes.” Permission is not required as long as you and your coworkers have figured out the best way to accomplish the task.
This autonomy has two benefits. First, a leader is explicitly putting their trust in their team to do what is necessary. To avoid disrupting the sovereignty of colleagues, there is an implicit need for collaboration. According to Riegel, the best stance to support autonomy is to hold all employees accountable for their actions and results. They must consult the leader if they are unsure of what to do. Otherwise, the executive should only be informed of what’s happening and not asked to take over or intervene.
Be Clear About Delegation Parameters
Leaders might not be able to permit in all situations. They may feel they have a vested right to how work is done and not only whether it gets done. Leaders who believe they are worthy of criticism and corrections can make it difficult to stop the natural tendency to “improve” their employees’ work.
Riegel suggests that leaders decide in advance what they will be involved in to combat this tendency. For example, they might not have an opinion on when a presentation is due for completion, but they might have challenging ideas on what topics to include or how many slides should be included. These requirements are not open to interpretation.
Sometimes, the executive may have preferences or soft opinions about how the presentation should look. These opinions are not mandatory. Therefore, employees who choose to present differently than the executive might express them would be free to correct. Executives need to recognize when they are wrong about how they have categorized their opinions. Riegel states that it is essential to admit that the exec may have expressed a soft view but that they have a complex idea. It is necessary to communicate to people proactively that you are sorry for making a mistake in judgment. It turned out that I wanted it in this manner.
You can replace the gratifications of control with the fulfillment of a relationship.
Leaders worry about losing control and being unable to exercise their power. Riegel pointed out that many executives love the feeling of being in control, having authority, and dictating everything. These leaders might feel lost in today’s world, where too much power can lead to increased turnover and disengagement. This is not uncommon, given the changes in the world over the past two years,” Riegel says. “So it’s normal, natural, and expected that things might have shifted so that your job or yourself aren’t recognized anymore.” Leaders can feel less overwhelmed by the temporary changes and drive greater employee engagement.
Executives will be more successful if they learn to trust their team members and work with each other to solve problems rather than being in control of their actions. This will make them more attractive to other high-performing employees. Riegel suggests that employees can support this shift by “communicating their value in the relationship and how they care about the leader personally, ” thereby creating a virtuous circle in which even previous controlling executives can see the benefits of allowing employees more freedom feeling more satisfied with the changes.
Leaders can recognize the resistance of employees to control and realize that they can unleash their creativity and drive by giving more autonomy to employees. This allows them to shift their attention away from managing every detail and instead focus on establishing what flexibility, clarity, and relationship strength they can offer.