Autonomy & Accountability: A Balance | Blog | EnSight+

Few bosses set out to be the look-over-the-shoulder type. Unfortunately, many of them find it difficult to give employees more freedom within widening parameters. Yet throughout my career, I’ve consistently found that giving workers autonomy and accountability improves company morale, corporate culture, and team engagement.

Most managers know on an instinctive level that happier employees are generally more productive. The issue most of them run into, however, is getting to a point where they’re comfortable letting go. The key is to hire a team that enables you to strike that crucial balance between micromanagement and staff self-governance.

Onboarding for Personality

My recruitment philosophy is simple: Look for an identity fit first and the skills fit second. In other words, I look for good people because they’re more apt to earn my trust. By onboarding someone who has a great attitude and values the diversity of thought, you can set yourself up for a smoother ride toward alignment autonomy. Plus, your training and knowledge sharing will go better because the employees will eagerly absorb what they learn and put their newfound skills into immediate practice.

This is a shift from previous recruitments that are centered around people with technical know-how and backgrounds. But there’s no doubt that hiring great attitudes can make it easier to eventually move workers into a state of professional autonomy and accountability.

The last thing you want is for micromanaging to lead to decisions that are detrimental. Workers who are constantly monitored will rapidly lose trust and confidence in their managers and in themselves.  Your employees will move from thinking anything is possible to be scared to even try.

It’s like the worst of child-parent relationships. Consider the child who repeatedly refuses to clean his room. When the parent finally cleans the room out of exasperation, this only cements the child’s belief that he doesn’t need to be — or can’t be — self-reliant. Mom or Dad will fix it for him.

It’s a vicious cycle, and a similar dynamic occurs far too often in workplace settings. Avoid it by building a team competent enough to work autonomously but self-aware enough to embrace constructive criticism and be coachable.

Give Employees Room to Grow (Within Reason)

Employees aren’t the only ones who suffer in a tightly controlled setting. Some managers have no clue how to promote autonomy. Leaders often discover that micromanaging is an exhausting and irritating exercise that risks burning them out along with their staff.

The solution to this problem, though, isn’t granting employees authority without thought.  The leaders that have a lackadaisical attitude are viewed as being unsupportive.  They’re so far from the trenches that they can’t be seen, and that worries employees.  That is as big a problem as micromanagement itself.

Ideally, supervisors and executives should work to balance autonomy with oversight by leveraging resources and learning how to hold employees accountable without micromanaging. Listed below are some tools and approaches that can be used to guide your team in a healthy and effective way.

1. Set up protective boundaries.

Giving employees autonomy is not the same as removing all their safety nets. Continue to empower them and help them learn how to properly navigate their job function, but don’t give them carte blanche to run the store without some kind of check-ins.

Web-based solutions such as Asana and Trello will allow you to measure performance from a distance, intervening only when necessary.  You can also confirm that your employees’ tasks are completed promptly and without difficulty.  You don’t have to impose constraints or always breathe down their necks.

2. Give them only the system permissions they need.

Customers have a huge fear of data breaches, which only makes sense in a data-driven world. Ensure the safety of your clients and employees by giving workers access to sensitive information only when necessary. Explain upfront that you are doing this to protect the consumers, not to punish any team members.

Most software systems allow you to restrict permissions as needed. If you aren’t currently doing this, it’s definitely time to start. Limiting the number of people who can see certain pages and items makes sense.  It will also allow you to feel better about giving employees autonomy in other areas.

3. Try a remote work arrangement.

Controversial or not, the labor force is increasingly heading toward remote work. After all, allowing talent to work off-site gives companies the opportunity to secure superstars from outside their region. Besides, working from home — or at least avoiding a long commute — makes life easier for employees.

To avoid this situation becoming a runaway train, establish communications expectations and protocols with your remote workers from day one. Talk about how you will stay in close contact via instant messaging, texts, and video chat software. These approaches won’t totally replace face-to-face interactions, but they will help you build trusting bonds. Don’t be surprised if your remote members improve their quality of work and the amount of daily output in response to their newly gained freedom.

Yes, it can be tough to give employees permission to largely govern themselves. Have faith that if you’ve hired a stellar crew, your decision will pay off big-time.


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