Autonomy is a meta-skill – Here’s how to help staff achieve It

Particularly post-pandemic, it’s by being autonomous that helps give employees control and guarantees business success, says Jane Frankel:

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Nov 15, 2023

Let’s agree that most employees will have a goal (or a number of goals) for their work.

But, what do staff value about these goals?

How do they plan to accomplish them?

Who will assist them – and how?

What do employees need to believe in order to succeed?

The answers to those questions are guided by employees’ mindsets.

And autonomy, a meta-skill in the modern workplace, depends on mindset.

When the two are aligned, staff are significantly more likely to succeed, because when employees are autonomous they are also in control.

So how can HR help create autonomy?

I would argue that to get started, four critical first steps needs to be considered:

Understand autonomy

Autonomy is a complex concept.

Certainly, it’s about independence and taking control.

But, as counterintuitive as it seems, it’s also about dependence. It demands that employees depend on others, deferring at times to the talents and perspectives that others bring to the table, too. So achieving autonomy isn’t easy. And it’s also never “done.” It is an enduring and ever-delicate balancing act.

In the modern workplace, particularly post-pandemic, autonomy means using unending data, information, mobility, and connectivity as a means to making good and relevant decisions.

That requires staff to understand their mindsets better; to know the results and outcomes they want to realize, to anticipate problems, to continuously grow and learn, and to respect the mindsets and roles of your collaborators. Inquiry and learning are always a priority in the autonomous mind.

Help staff understand their mindsets

Employees can’t understand themselves without understanding their mindsets too.

But what is a mindset, anyway?

Luckily, the answer is pretty straightforward: This is someone’s goals (what’s being aimed for), values (the core principles by which someone aims to live their life); their beliefs (the opinions, assumptions, and biases that they may bring to any individual, group, or situation), and their mode of work (how they go about doing their job).

Helping staff understand their mindset is more than a worthy exercise.

It is absolutely essential to achieving autonomy. So, encourage managers to set aside as much quiet, quality time people need to consider all that their mindset comprises. Then, ask how employees can align those components to one another.

With a context, direction, and some additional self-awareness, employees will be ready to make decisions that align to them. They’ll be clearer about how to succeed – including determining what their short-range outcomes are – and they’ll be able to more easily confront obstacles as they crop up, and before they impede hard-earned progress.

It’s about understanding others

Since autonomy is achieved by balancing independence with dependence, staff need to be sure to understand their collaborators’ mindsets in addition to their own – even if they may not see eye-to-eye.

When disagreements a collaborators occur, it’s important staff have an open, ongoing dialogue until they can agree on a match point that meets mutual expectations.

That requires time, energy, patience, compromise, and a commitment to serve each other. It is hard work, but both parties will often be better for it.

Understanding the environment

How does environment impact someone’s work and the work of their collaborators?

Does it create continuous opportunities to get big and rewarding things done – or are there obstacles that always stand in the way?

It’s for HR to determine how top leadership helps or hinders work culture, and also to know how world events, such as climate change and globalization, are causing the company to change or completely reinvent itself.

In closing, it’s worth remembering that employee are their own best advocates, but with a little encouragement along the way, HR can help them understand themselves better, to achieve autonomy, and control.

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