Give people choices, some control over their actions, and their performance improves. This is the essence of autonomy and why it is a proven motivator.
But once autonomy is earned, then it must be managed, because the circumstances that originally enable it are likely to change. If you want your high performing, self-directed people to succeed, then monitoring the situation in which they work is critical; one change in your team’s work pattern can cause a crash.
It’s a leader’s responsibility to recognize changing circumstances and direct how an autonomous person or team adapts to them. Adding a new person, revising an established process, or implementing a new policy are examples of subtle revisions that can impact autonomous performance. When such a circumstance develops, it’s time to get directive again, if only for a short while.
Review your rationale. Change is often accompanied by altered expectations. Allowing a high performing person or team to assume how your expectations for goal achievement and behavior might have evolved in reaction to a new circumstance increases the probability that mistakes will be made and well-earned success will be compromised. Share your rationale for temporarily increasing your direct engagement; to support their efforts and ensure that they continue to succeed, it’s essential to review how your expectations or others’ may have shifted and to discuss potential adaptations.
Recognize contributions. Everybody wants to be appreciated for his or her work. Before discussing your changed expectations, remember to acknowledge specific contributions and express your appreciation. Doing so reinforces your trust relationship and validates your support for their decisions that generated the elevated performance. Knowing their efforts are appreciated encourages them to propose ideas and adapt to a change; it also enables you to effectively assess how required revisions can be implemented and how quickly autonomy may be restored.
Restate the goal and its value. Reminding the person or team about their goal, and why it is important for the organization and for them, provides a stable foundation for implementing change. Recalling how goal achievement will benefit all stakeholders inspires productive discussion about adaptions that may be necessary as a result of your refined expectations. Solutions become theirs, strengthening their commitment and motivation, and accelerating a prompt return to autonomy.
Preserving equilibrium between autonomy and a leader’s direction maximizes an employee’s potential, satisfaction, and performance.
How are you monitoring the conditions that impact your high performing people or teams?
What could you do differently to accelerate their adaptation to change and return to autonomy?