Intent Blog

How to Balance Autonomy in the Workplace with Control

There are obvious benefits to giving employees more autonomy in the workplace. Greater engagement, more accountability, greater job satisfaction, and greater ownership of tasks are all possible benefits. But, greater autonomy also comes with a health warning. Disobedience, recklessness, slipping of standards, etc. are possible side effects of inappropriately handing over autonomy and control to employees.

In order for the autonomy afforded employees to be productive it is important that leaders get the right balance between autonomy and structure/control.  In order to realize the benefits of  creative employee commitment that is made possible by increased autonomy the leader must manage to engage the employees to responsibly further the ends of the organisation. But this does not happen over night, it has to happen as an incremental process. The leader must engage the employees on the organisation’s journey such that the employees experience themselves as engaging with an organic unity greater than themselves which is progressing towards a meaningful destination so they can willingly take on the responsibility of reaching that destination.

Empowerment means incrementally giving employees greater Autonomy in executing their Duties.The process of incrementally handing over greater autonomy is called a process of empowerment. Empowerment is very important to effective leadership practices. In the long run it also necessary for organisational success. Organisations must deliberately adopt the agenda of empowering employees and giving them greater autonomy.

What leaders must keep in mind at all times is that empowerment is and must be an incremental process. Each step of empowerment involves a greater degree of trust and entrustment to the employee. The employee must, at each increment, demonstrate the responsibility and accountability to warrant being further trusted with greater freedom and autonomy in their roles.

Further to this, employees should be given the tools, ability and purpose needed to make them capable and engage their creativity. They also need to prevented from straying towards mediocrity by being held accountable for their performance in order to engage their willingness. When you grant a degree of autonomy this has to come with the burden of accountability. This is in their own best interest as it provides a platform for employees to achieve mastery and to realize their own potential for successful contribution. This is, of course, also productive of a healthy organisation which will become a hotbed for creativity and progress.

Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.