Motivation, when lasts, is not an external stimulus. According to the “Self-determination theory”, intrinsic motivation mainly depends on 3 factors: competence, relatedness and autonomy. It is when we feel that we’re good at something, we belong, and we’re in control, that we’re driven to accomplish.
Control leads to obedience. When people simply follow what they are told to do, there’s no room for creativity and new ideas. Besides, for most of us, that’s terribly boring and makes us feel detached.
Autonomy means self-regulation and self-determination, that is, having full choice about the own behavior and decisions. The contrary is called heteronomy which means being under others’ willingness. And all of us have experimented the effects when we’re forced to do something we don’t want to, or simply we haven’t thought of.
People, especially new generations, want to be responsible for their work and have enough room to make their decisions and learn from the outcomes. At a time of talent scarcity, organizations can’t afford to have disengaged employees or lose people because they feel they can’t contribute.
Autonomy promotes engagement and sparks proactivity, which is especially relevant in times of rapid shifts in market conditions like we’re immersed now. Proactivity is the enabler for organizations to respond to change at the required speed.
Focus on the why, ask about the how
The first thing to establish autonomy is being clear about the why. Well-established expectations about the outcome jointly with knowing the objectives’ importance and impact serves as a compass to develop any strategy. Besides, well-informed employees generally perform better.
But knowing why is just the starting point. To promote autonomy, they should decide about the how. You need to give them a sense of ownership. Encouraging your people to exercise initiative and accountability when working is essential.
For doing that, managers must be aware of people’s capabilities and abilities. Responsibility must fit the actual capabilities, and also being a challenge. Otherwise, people will feel overwhelmed and unable to make decisions. That’s why competence is a key part when talking about motivation.
Change of mindset
A great leader is not the one having many followers, but they who develop other leaders. Autonomy is essential to successfully develop self-management and leadership. It’s what makes us see and prevent problems, capture opportunities and create a desired future.
Some time ago, an autonomous employee could have been seen as a threat to the leader. Today, it’s the most valuable resource for an organization to be flexible and responsive to change.