Autonomy in the Workplace

  • Dec 19
Autonomy in the Workplace

Some of the most productive, profitable businesses in the world are challenging organizational norms. And they’re reaping formidable returns from empowered employees by providing them with autonomy in the workplace. What can we learn from these companies, which include names like Amazon, Google, and Netflix? Let’s take a look.

Survey says: Autonomy in the Workplace

Building trust in the workplace is essential for corporate success. In fact, Reed Hastings (CEO and co-founder of Netflix) says the key is maintaining an organization where managers trust each employee to make good decisions for the company. But more importantly, they’re afforded the authority to do so. In fact, Netflix lists this as its #1 core philosophy for the company’s culture! Giving employees space to innovate and make decisions on behalf of the organization benefits the employee and employer.

Allowing those who do the work to innovate how that work happens benefits companies in four ways:

  1. Employees take ownership of their work in a much greater sense. They also value it more when they have a personal stake in it – encouraging them to think outside the status-quo.
  2. Innovative employees improve their own productivity and likely other teammates’ in the process. This helps them to succeed on a personal level.
  3. The company benefits from increased productivity and therefore profitability.
  4. Employee satisfaction and engagement goes up. In turn, this leads to a decline in turnover, and circles back one last time to boost the bottom line.

Okay – so, what’s the catch? Why aren’t all employees given a long leash to innovate and see positive change in the workplace? You’re probably way ahead of me on this one. When an employer provides room for success and innovation, they must allow space for failure, and that’s scary.

Failure means you’re attempting to succeed

A man, laying his head on a desk, exasperated from failure from autonomy in the workplace

However, CEOs like Jeff Bezos of Amazon and James Quincey of Coca-Cola have taken reins of companies with incredible potential and solid profits by EMPHASIZING the value of failure. Quincey told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 “If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough.”

Keep only highly-effective people

The other, harder task that comes along with autonomy and reaping the benefits as a corporation, is building a workforce cut out for autonomous, innovative work. In Netflix’s words, “keep only highly effective people.” The idea is that if an employee can’t self-organize, motivate and act in the best interest of the company without oversight, they probably aren’t a good candidate for the spot in the first place.

These are high ideals and complicated concepts to start implementing even in stages within companies that have been functioning for many years. It’s also difficult among employees who are used to a very structured, pyramidic approach that is common to western business practice.

Still, I think the potential benefit to employers and employees is well worth starting down this path and asking the hard questions. Autonomy at work should be a major consideration for an organization’s management. The cliche exists for a reason – nothing good ever came easy. A workplace worth working in seems like something worth pursuing.

Still interested? Consider reading our blog on determining and understanding employee needs.

Article written by Erica Bass

Last updated March 8, 2023