Full disclosure: I haven’t read Daniel Pink’s Drive yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about autonomy, one of the 3 elements of true motivation he writes about in his book.
If you ask any employer in the world right now, I hardly believe anyone will tell you (s)he wants to micro-manage people. So what does it mean to not micro-manage people? It means giving them the autonomy they need to do their job in the best way they consider doing it. They are the experts, so what you need to do is give them everything they need in order to do a great job and stay out of their way. In return, you will get more time to do your own stuff and they will be more motivated, which will lead to more great work from their part. Sounds like a winning formula, right?
But what are the major things someone needs in order to be autonomous in his/her work?
From my experience, here are the 2 major things that make me feel autonomous at work:
Make sure you’re clear about what you are trying to achieve and why.
What is the guiding star for your employees, it’s the end result expected from their work, it’s what they need to achieve using their expert skills. If you don’t come up with a vision of what you’re trying to achieve, then you’re gonna have to spoon feed them every little step, every little task that they need to do in order to get to what you have in your mind. And that’s gonna be painful for both of you. Many times is not easy to define and explain what you want to achieve, but it is necessary, unless you want to do everything yourself or get completely different results than what you expect.
Why is needed there because you want to get buy-in for your grand vision and motivate even more by giving the sense of purpose (one of the other 2 elements of true motivation). While on the short term it might seem convenient for the why to be a consistent amount of money, especially when you have them, that will not last. You are not rich enough to keep that why attractive on a long term and probably you don’t want people who are motivated only by money to work for you. Maybe only if you’re a bank or an investment fund or a stock market, but even then, weren’t money incentives the ones that contributed a lot to the 2008 crisis?
Environment of trust
So by now you shared your vision and your why, next you need to make sure there is the right environment in place for your people to get you there. And that is mainly relying on creating a relationship of trust. They need to trust you, you need to trust them and they need to trust each other. If you don’t treat your people as experts and adults and you filter or withhold information: no trust. If through some reward mechanisms you make people compete against each other: no trust. If you are not aware of the impact of some of your actions and only blame your employees for the poor results: no trust again.
This has huge implications to the entire dynamics of the workplace, not just to how autonomous people feel they are. From trust emerge transparency, safety to be yourself and to make mistakes, possibility to learn from those mistakes, and many more. All these contribute to the general productivity of your people and the quality of their life at work but also at home. And these value more than any ludicrous financial rewards!