For many leaders, balancing the desire to provide the guidance and supervision with employees’ desires for autonomy can be a difficult juggling act. Many managers believe that autonomy is determined by the definition of the job tasks, but this idea is rapidly becoming outdated. The appropriate level of autonomy will differ for each employee in the organisation.
Every employee begins their career at the organisation does need some initial supervision to learn their job tasks. The majority of employees will continue to progress into their own comfort zone of autonomy naturally, and some will continue to need close supervision to remain productive. If the employee seems eager to work and yet continues to struggle picking up job tasks, a second round of training may be all it takes to set them on their way to becoming an autonomous employee.
However, some employees experience uncertainty or anxiety if they do not have a step by step action plan laid out for each aspect of their job, and may feel uncomfortable trusting their own knowledge. Pairing these employees with a team member for a second round of on the job training will help employees gain confidence in their own ability to handle day to day tasks over time, and some employees will flourish in an engaged team environment.
Some of these employees simply do not think to ask for guidance when they reach a hurdle not taken into account in their instructions, and instead cease working on the project until the next scheduled meeting occurs. For these employees, providing detailed instructions for project goals and explicitly stating that the employee should approach management with any questions may be a good start, but they may still require daily check-ins to continue to make meaningful progress on their projects. These employees will also thrive in an engaged team environment, though they may appear sardonic, cynical, or disengaged in comparison to their colleagues.
The next step up toward autonomy occurs when employees begin to feel comfortable implementing action plans without daily check-ins. These employees may prefer to follow plans outlined by management, or may possibly begin taking on the task of conducting their own research. In either scenario, the employee will still require management approval before continuing past the research phase, but will be able to implement and complete plans semi-autonomously once the plan is approved. For these employees, beginning each project with a meeting to discuss project plans and checking in with employees every few days will keep things running smoothly.
Once employees are comfortable carrying out an action plan with moderate input from management, the natural progression will lead the employee to complete autonomy. Often times, the employees comfortable with making reasonable decisions regarding their position are the seasoned veterans that have earned the trust of management. These employees are able to complete their job tasks accurately, timely, and independently, and will actively seek out assistance from management when needed. Managers will find that these employees are fine working on their own between staff meetings.
Finally, the employees that managers are most excited to see in their team are those with strong leadership skills. These employees not only complete their own tasks without the need for managerial input, but continue on to assist their colleagues with their work. These employees make excellent team leaders, and are particularly helpful when paired with employees requiring more frequent assistance.
Once a leader has managed to identify the level of autonomy a given employee is comfortable with, they will have the opportunity to help the employee grow into their role in the organisation. While some personalities will never progress past the hand-holding stage, the majority of timid employees have the potential to develop into successful, productive, and autonomous employees ready to move into leadership roles.
Senior Trainer & Consultant
(Image courtesy of dollarphotoclub)