The Death of Micromanagement and the Rise of Autonomous Work Culture

November 6, 2017 • 6 minute read • by Saeed


“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people and they tell us what to do.” ~ Steve Jobs

Micromanagers are bad news. They are bad for business and bad for employees. They lack personal leadership and tend to disempower staff, stifle innovation, kill creativity and foster poor performance.

Micromanagers cause time management issues when they cause work to be redone over and over again and cause bottlenecks in communication and decision making. With their over-controlling approach, they constantly communicate that they don’t trust you and strip you of all sense of ownership.

The costs of long-term micromanagement are high. They include low employee morale, high staff turnover, and reduction of productivity. In fact, the deleterious impacts of micromanagement are so intense that it is labeled among the top three reasons why employees resign.

Next to abusive and toxic bosses, micromanagers are the scourge of the workplace. But things are about to change.

Autonomy is the Alternative

Autonomy is the antithesis of and antidote to micromanagement. Self-determination, or the ability to exercise autonomy, is central to health and contentment. The desire to be autonomous is a natural inclination and research supports how much of a priority it is for workers.  One study of more than 2,000 people across three continents found that workers were nearly two and a half times more likely to take a job that gave them more autonomy than they were to want a job that gave them more influence.

In fact, study after study has shown that work environments that are more autonomous in nature simply have higher levels of productivity, creativity, engagement and overall job satisfaction.

For example, in a study of 230 Taiwanese community health center workers, researchers found the more autonomy employees had at work, the more satisfied they were with their jobs and the less turnover. A similar study in Australia achieved the same results with home care workers.

Clearly, giving workers more control over their tasks is one of the best ways employers can recruit and keep top talent. It’s also the best way to combat micromanagement at the macro level.

Autonomy in Action

Autonomy means that there is someone who sets strategic direction and the destination for the employee, but the employee can decide on the path to get from point A to point B.

It tends to be the case that there is less autonomy in the lower ranks and more the higher you go.

Workplaces can support autonomy across the board by giving people real control over various aspects of their work — whether it’s deciding what to work on or when to do it.

Autonomy in the workplace can also be applied to teams. An autonomous team is one that is self-managed and receives little to no direction from a supervisor. When team members work well together, they can help to enhance each other’s strengths, and can compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Working in such a cooperative and enriching environment can have a positive impact on job satisfaction.

Autonomy does not mean lack of structure. In fact it is important to find a balance between autonomy and structure. Autonomy creates a specific kind of motivation called intrinsic motivation—the desire to do something for its own sake. It restores the ownership that the micromanagement style takes away and it restores engagement at a significant level. Workers happily work within required structures, when they have autonomy.

The most important aspect of autonomy at work is a perceived feeling of choice. Whether employees are truly able to make their own decisions is less important than whether or not they feel that they are.

To provide this balance, managers must define the desired end result clearly, and outline boundaries and parameters to achieve those results. Then, they must get out of the way and let people create within this frame.

The Birth of the Results Oriented Workplace

This desire and drive towards autonomy explains the rise of results-only work environments, or ROWEs. In a ROWE, employees are allowed to work whenever they want with no set schedules. Employees are also allowed to complete their work however they want, and wherever they want, as long as it gets finished.

I would even argue that the rise of entrepreneurship, side hustles, and lifestyle businesses are a result of people wanting greater autonomy and freedom from being chained to their desks. This innate desire is a powerful force that ROWEs leverage by giving people the freedom to choose when and how they will meet their goals.

While ROWEs are still relegated to more enlightened Silicon Valley start ups like AirBnB who practice the model with great ehem, results, they are an inevitable wave and future trend in the world of work.

In the meantime…

If you feel oppressed by your lack of autonomy you may want to talk to your supervisors about potential leadership opportunities on certain projects and more autonomy in your work. In extreme cases, you may want to have a talk with your supervisor about the deleterious effects of micromanagement on your productivity. It may seem like a small aspect of your work life, but if it is having an impact on your happiness, job satisfaction, and even your health, it could even be time to search for a new gig.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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