Especially Now, Managers Should Give Autonomy More Thoughtfully

A one-size-fits-all approach to giving autonomy can lead employees to feel more like living at work than working from home.

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Managers who delegate high-level responsibilities, share decision-making, and otherwise give their teams autonomy in how the work gets done to achieve agreed-upon results, often reap the rewards in terms of increased trust and engagement, stronger job performance and overall employee commitment to the organization.

However, not everyone perceives empowerment the same way. While some employees thrive on the opportunity to take ownership and manage their responsibilities as they see fit, others may, fairly or not, see their boss as unwilling to do the work, aloof, too hands-off, and, not in the details enough. (Thousands of 360-degree feedback interviews I’ve conducted over the years have yielded these and similar perceptions from employees about their managers).

The answer is to adopt a more tailored approach to employee empowerment, by considering diverse work- and communication styles, with managers identifying who on their teams require very little direction, and who may perform better with some hand-holding and guidance via regular check-ins and informal feedback and brainstorming sessions.

Developing this sort of judgment requires of managers an increased capacity for empathy, or at least perspective-taking, and a genuine desire to get to know people beyond a professional context, on a more personal level, including, especially, those who tend to be less vocal and perhaps more internal processors.

Especially during the COVID lockdown, with so many of us working from home, in solitary, the quick hallway conversations and other check-ins with colleagues that typically serve to provide clarity, knowledge-sharing, creative input, and answers to some vexing questions, have gone away, potentially exacerbating the angst and uncertainty of those reluctant to send an email or pick up the phone, lest one is thought of as “not getting it”.

It is similarly unlikely that those with simply too much on their plate would reach out to their boss and complain about the workload, especially not when everyone else seems to just grit their teeth and grind it out, adding additional WFH hours to an already swamped schedule, an unsustainable dynamic that can feel more like living at work than working from home.

Checking in on someone to see how they’re doing doesn’t have to come across as micro-managing. It can simply be done in the spirit of bolstering the interpersonal integrity and esprit de corps that the virus has temporarily suspended by keeping us apart.

Showing we care is basic social intelligence, and that’s something that should never be delegated.

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