It’s no secret that the past few years have introduced many new challenges and changed our day-to-day lives. Remote and hybrid work models are more common, and soft, transferable skills are in high demand. That’s why employee autonomy, the ability for a worker to take ownership of their work and thrive in their own way, is such a sought-after skill.

If you’re an employer, you want to set your team up for success and provide avenues to promote autonomy. But it’s not always easy to do so, especially if your team is working remotely. But if you take the initiative by following these tenets, you can create a space to foster autonomy for your team.

“When you delegate authority, you’re giving your team the opportunity to fully invest themselves in their jobs and take ownership of the process and outcomes. Nothing but good can come from that.” –John Hall, Forbes

Be clear about expectations

In any leadership role, your job is to set the tone by communicating expectations and norms. While it can appear autonomous to let your employees run totally free, it’s better to create clear expectations and guidelines to steer your employees along the right path.

Success’ Melanie Clark suggests that a good project outline can help any worker starting a new project. Clearly defining the goal of a project, mentioning potential risks, and offering suggestions for helpful resources give the employee a great starting point while allowing them to handle the project in their own way.

“Before you give someone more autonomy over their work, make sure they understand the key objectives of their role and the metrics by which success will be measured.” –Rubina Malik, LinkedIn

Keep regular contact

Offering an employee autonomy doesn’t mean leaving them totally to their own devices. We don’t have to toss our employees to the wind and hope they fly. Being in regular contact and offering to be a point of contact promotes autonomy and fosters a healthy mindset.

Providing opportunities to check in can allow your employee to clarify any questions they have while providing your progress reports and their insights. Melanie Clark says this is a great time to be an active listener. You’ll learn more about the employee’s leadership style, strengths, and weaknesses and build a strong rapport with a future leader.

Focus on results

We all approach problems differently. Having a team of autonomous workers is a boon because you’ll have different minds finding different ways to tackle each obstacle. But in order for this to happen, you have to trust your workers’ process. Focus on their results, even if you’d take a different approach to get there.

LinkedIn’s Rubina Malik mentions the idea of a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). ROWE is the ideal way to view work in a remote environment since it focuses on the output and outcomes rather than micromanaging the process. Managers need to adapt to the changing work atmosphere, and even if you don’t work remotely, this philosophy still allows the worker to find their best process and achieve results.

“Today’s workforce is looking for more control over their personal and professional lives. This means giving employees the freedom to work in a way that suits them.” –Teresa Smith, UKG

Foster growth

An autonomous workforce makes life easy for you and the organization, but it also promotes growth in the employee and elevates their career. Works want to work for companies that invest in their growth, so offer any opportunities you can to assist.

HBR’s David Lancefield says to create as many learning opportunities as possible. Help your employees reach their own decisions and then find the best ways to build on those decisions. If you can act as a mentor and sounding board while they take on new challenges, you’ll be promoting valuable growth. CoachHub writes that by allowing employees to experiment and take risks, they’ll gain confidence and be more willing to try to take on new projects.

Allow mistakes

In the midst of these efforts will come mistakes. Autonomy is a developed skill, and in any skill, we must struggle to grow. Punishing these mistakes will create a fear of trying again, Instead, accept that some mistakes will be made along the way and help the worker view them as a learning opportunity.

BetterUp’s Maggie Wooll writes that delegation is about responsibility, not punishment. Frame your response as a manager as one of growth and teaching. This will increase productivity, motivation, and skill development instead of stagnating them.

“If blame and punishment are assigned for mistakes, this will only discourage future free-thinking and creativity.” –Maggie Wooll

Wrap up

Fostering a growth of autonomy in the workplace is a lot like teaching or raising children. Create opportunities for your workers to try new things while providing guidelines and a safety net for them. Let them attack problems in their own way and let them make their own mistakes along the way. The best leaders have to start somewhere, and you can help provide those steps and help both the employees and the organization grow!

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