Work toward a team of employees who develop their own goals and objectives that are in-line with corporate goals and based on their passions, likes, interests and job. This team will be more engaged and productive, increasing the company’s bottom line.
Managers often provide highly specific guidance to team members on individual goals and steps of projects. Yet employees are most productive when they have ownership of their immediate tasks. Managers have common barriers to allowing employee autonomy, including their fear of:
- loss of control over activities, behavior, outputs - and just plain old control
- decreased productivity and hence results due to
- employees wasting time on truly non-productive activities (e.g., making gift baskets for their favorite charity, surfing the net for new fishing equipment, etc.)
- employees wasting time on job/project related activities that don't matter or are not directly related to their job or project
- employees unable to prioritize their tasks/actions or prioritize them out of sync with “corporate” strategies/goals resulting in well-meaning but ineffective and inefficient productivity
- an employee slacking off and the rest of the team or their peers having to pick up the extra work without reward, causing increased frustration and decreased morale;
- employees go off course in a direction not aligned with corporate strategy and goals
Any of these situations reflect poorly on the manager. But an autonomous team working in alignment will do exactly the opposite - make the manager look like a genius.
Build the first layer of autonomy through a small step that includes a controlled process. Allow selected individuals or possibly groups of individuals come up with non-standard projects, ones that incorporate their passions and address the problems they see on a daily basis.
You will need a group of enthusiastic and self-driven participants; a corporate goal that lends itself to mini-projects (six to eight weeks); and the restraint to step back from day-to-day activities in this one case.
Each of the selected team members will develop and implement one project that meets the selected corporate goal. The manager and team members will develop Rules of Autonomy that focus on the outcomes more than each of the steps. These could include:
- Individual/Team goal
- Explicit statement of how the project aligns with corporate strategy/goal (or business or division)
- Project timeframes, milestones, leading, real-time and trailing indicators (outputs) and outcomes
- Success measures. Potential examples:
- Definition of what needs to be known, understood, accomplished at each milestone
- Determination of what makes a go-forward, redo, stop, redesign, etc. decision
- Identification of leading indicators, real-time indicators, trailing indicators and how these will be measured
- Statement of outcomes (benefit to the customer) or outputs (profit, revenue, % of x) and the timeline for realizing them.
- Agreement on the update process, including any templates and who will share what information.
In announcing this experiment, the manager should discuss how the hypothesis/assumptions will be tested and how learnings will be shared, applied and iterated. At the initial project meeting, the manager and team member should discuss how the hypothesis/assumptions of the experiment relate to this specific project.
The manager will provide coaching, remove obstacles and make connections as needed - facilitate, not manage. Evaluate how well the rules are working as you go through the process.
The projects should be designed to produce results at the end of 90 days. Regardless of the project itself, this process should develop team members who are more engaged, and therefore develop better ideas with a more positive impact on the company’s bottom line.
Extra credit: If individuals are comfortable with this level of autonomy on their own, let them develop a team project. The same process applies, but discussion/reporting occurs with the project team. This also works as step two in the process.
Practical Impact can be assessed by outputs and outcomes. Depending on how long the experiment lasts, the level of accuracy and implication may vary, as some outputs and outcomes may take longer to achieve than the duration of the experiment
Outputs: more and better quality ideas (more 'at bats'), increased productivity - individually and of the team, increased revenue, increased profit
Outcomes: improved employee engagement, empowerment, increased collaboration between individuals, between teams, and potentially with customers and suppliers, more opportunities because of a changed perspective, higher employee retention, easier employee attraction, broader-more diverse external & internal networks bringing new/different perspectives to employees, lower presentee-ism, happier employees, laughter & smiles
The company that successfully increases autonomy is better positioned to retain and attract talent, develop ground-breaking, customer-facing ideas, and ultimately survive in the long-term.
Giving employees more autonomy and ability to self-organize will increase both their productivity and the quantity and quality of ideas/solutions to internal and external opportunities and challenges.
Some of this depends on the duration of the experiment vis-à-vis the duration needed to realize real results from the project. Measurements are both in terms of outputs (tangibles) and outcomes (intangibles)
- Quantity of ideas/solutions
- Quality of ideas/solutions
- Time from beginning of experiment to first set of solutions
- Time from first set of solutions to ‘final’ set of solution(s)
- Market acceptance – e.g. alpha or beta or actual customers – this could be in units sold, ordered, or something depending on what the solution is – even an internal one if the customer is internal
- Revenue – if available
- Profit – if available
- Morale/engagement/empowerment of the employee and the team
- Increased collaboration – outside of the project – more people sharing/talking to each other
- Depth, breadth of internal and external networks
- Decreased presentee-ism
- Smiles, laughter
Develop a simple selection process for participants that does not imply some people are better than others. This is critical for long-term success of autonomy as a guiding principle for your team.
Announce the project and ask for volunteers
Identify candidates and ask if they’ll volunteer
Announce and explain project to group.
- Note that more volunteers are needed for round two and everyone can use help to make this succeed.
- Identify the one criterion that selected the group (this requires that you are honest with your team members about their strengths and don’t expect them to develop their weaknesses into strengths.)
Vet participants by their:
- Passion, commitment
- Comfort with autonomy; they are self-starters
- Tendency to set achievable goals
- Alignment with corporate/BU goals
Use baseline data, previous projects and/or before/after surveys to evaluate success in this experiment. Comparing progress to a control group will breed competition, decrease morale and doom future results.
In measuring, state up front that the comparisons aren’t perfect. Identify and address the disparities up front. Potential sources of comparison data include:
- Compare with a similar project in another division if the company is large enough.
- Use projects that have been done in the recent past that are analogues or involved the same people in a command-and-control setting
- Discuss with senior manager (Week 1)
- Announce initiative (Week 1)
- Solicit or vet volunteers (Week 1-2)
- Team/individual and manager agree on goal or project or training (Week 3)
- Agree on rules of engagement (Week 4)
- Formal sign-off on expectations (End of Month 1)
- Inform senior manager of projects, participants and expected outcomes
- Execute project/training/goal (Weeks 5-12)
- Have project debrief meeting with manager; individuals write report (Week 13)
- Manager pulls all metrics together to report to senior manager (Week 13; 90 days)
Note: The projects developed by the team members must be between six and eight weeks, or should have a significant milestone at that time.