Allowing Autonomy

low angle photo grayscale of person tightrope walking
Photo by Marcelo Moreira on Pexels.com

This article from the Pacific Institute (note, I am affiliated the Institute) really struck a chord with me.

It talks about allowing some risk when guiding employees. Too many rules and teams will be constantly looking at the next step and not the outcome.

In creating the “tightrope effect” we increase the stress and anxiety in people who are too fearful to make a mistake. As the article says, when people “look down” to make sure they are following the steps they are not looking ahead to what can be achieved.

I’ve worked on a number of initiatives where people are asked to adopt a process of some kind. A process or a daily target, for example.

This article made me think of the tightrope we ask our teams to walk if we mis-manage the implementation process.

Riding a motorbike requires the rider to look ahead. I’ve ridden bikes, never look down. Look ahead to see what’s coming so you can negotiate it successfully. (Plus it’s more enjoyable leaning into corners! 😎)

Source: http://www.canyonchasers.net
Here’s an example:

In a recent role, we were implementing a new process. There were five steps and each step had five “criteria”. Staff were required to meet each of the criteria at each step. On a regular basis, a scenario was recorded and critiqued by the management team.

Could they identify each of the steps and the associated criteria? Yes. No. Maybe. (Even the managers couldn’t agree!)

The team member was then coached on the outcome of that discussion.

“Here’s what you missed! Here’s what you did well.” What do you think they would reflect on?

“Dear Team Member, Please make sure you complete all steps and all criteria within each step! – Manager”

The feedback asked them to “look down” at each step and criteria. Next time they were with a customer, where do you think their focus would be?

“What if I didn’t do all the criteria but the customer was happy?”

The guidance being to “work it in. Focus on the steps, not the outcome.” That wasn’t the intention, of course, but you can see how it would work out that way.

I had the opportunity to speak with the developer of the model and asked them about the strictness of the model. Do all criteria of each step have to be completed for this to be a success?

“Oh god no! As long as the person is achieving the main steps (rapport building, explain benefits, good questioning, asking for the order and closing) the criteria are guidelines. To help with coaching and development.”

This is where we need to allow some autonomy of our people to do their roles well. We can create so much unnecessary stress in our teams if we demand a certain set of behaviours where a slightly different set will achieve the same outcomes.

In general, we’re dealing with adults but rigidity to this degree means we can also treat them like children.

Allow some risks to be taken, as the original article suggests. Don’t make them look down, you’ll increase the stress, limit performance and the only target you’ll exceed is your staff turnover.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: