Go ahead, empower your staffers to work on their own. Then watch them thrive.
A new customer experience manager had just started at GreenPal, an online marketplace in Nashville, Tenn., which connects homeowners with lawn-mowing professionals. Then, right out of the starting box, the manager faced a big assignment: Gather new online reviews from customers.
The assignment came from CEO Bryan Clayton, who said he initially outlined for the manager his ideas on how to do this. Then he stopped: “I realized that I wanted [the new manager] to ‘own’ the project,” Clayton said via email. “I simply told him that the objective was to get 20 new reviews for every city we operated in, but he needed to figure out how to do it.”
The employee surprised the CEO with the plan he developed, even surpassing his expectations. His solution? The manager found out what types of dogs customers had and sent them dog bones as an incentive to fill out online reviews.
Not only did GreenPal earn a lot of online reviews, it also got great social media coverage, as customers shared their cards and dog treats on their Instagram and Facebook pages. From that, Clayton said, he learned a valuable lesson.
“Put your people in positions where they have to own the results,” he wrote, “and if they are unable to deliver, then odds are, you don’t have the right person on your team anyways.”
Clayton’s is a simple philosophy — employees want autonomy. In fact, an April 2017 study from the University of Birmingham found that employee autonomy leads to higher levels of job satisfaction and makes a positive impact on their overall well-being.
Here’s how employers can integrate employee autonomy into their culture:
1. Hire smart.
Steve Jobs was known for being a strong leader, especially when it came to bringing in the right talent. He famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Nick Bulcao, the founder and CEO of Airspace Technologies, a technology-enabled logistics company specializing in time-critical shipments and based in San Diego, said he takes the following wise words to heart: “We allow everyone’s voice to be heard and allow them to make their own decisions,” Bulcao wrote via email.
“The reason we hire the people on our team is because we trust that they are able to do their job without a lot of oversight from upper management.”
If a company has a strong hiring process, it can be confident about encouraging employee autonomy. When hiring at your own company, look for talent that understands what independence means and how to apply it in the workplace.
“I wanted to create a culture that encourages team members to think on their own,” Bulcao wrote. “My team knows that it is okay to fail, which relieves all pressure off the employee, allowing them to enjoy their time at work and focus on moving the company forward.”
2. Embrace the “Ask forgiveness, not permission” philosophy.
Everyone has heard the saying, “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Adam Lyons, the CEO and co-founder of The Zebra, a car insurance comparison website based in Austin, encourages this mindset in all his employees.
“I want everyone to make a conscious decision in their work to move the company forward,” Lyons said in an email. “If this means moving quickly and without direct permission, so be it. Red tape suffocates growth, creativity and problem-solving. I want to eliminate it entirely.”
As long as employers provide their team with the right resources and support, those employees can be given free rein to work as they see fit.
3. Focus on quality training.
Brian Forrester, the co-founder of Workshop Digital, a digital marketing agency in Richmond, Va., believes in “the three T’s” for encouraging employee autonomy: training, trust and time.
“Since we can’t speed up time, we focus on the first two,” Forrester wrote. “We have training in place to get employees up to speed on best practices so we can be confident they have the hard skills necessary to work autonomously. We also provide ongoing support through other team members and through a manager.”
By instituting the right training, Forrester said, Workshop Digital found it could let employees be autonomous after about three months on the job. This kind of forward thinking instills in employees a sense of ownership and genuine interest in the growth of the organization.