Empower Your Employees to Self-Manage

Despite the recent hype over management trends like holacracy, employee self-management isn’t a myth. In fact, it’s possible to foster happier, more creative, and more productive teams through better self-management without going to the extremes of Zappos.

Implement these 4 simple suggestions, and you’ll get your team so on task that you can finally turn off your phone in the evening and have dinner (or a Netflix binge session) in peace.

#1 Reconsider the Specialist

The generalist is the future. Why? An employee with a basic but clear understanding of the inner workings of the company, as well as its long term goals and macro-strategy, is one who can nimbly jump into any project, any time. To create these broadly versed employees, be transparent as a leader. You remain their direct connection to the larger organization, so provide insight.

It used to be that employees were informed on a “need to know” basis. But that model has proven short-sighted, and in the face of the ubiquitous “let’s Google it” behavior, it’s now totally outmoded. We are creatures of information, curious seekers who want to feel “in the know”. The more your team knows, the more they self-manage and the better they operate.

Give everyone the opportunity to learn and grow in fields beyond their own speciality, providing everyone with unlimited, real-time access to content about your products and solutions, even if the details fall outside of that employee’s specific role.

#2 Establish a Culture of Openness

Progressive concepts like “holding space for others” and “banishing negative self-talk” aren’t just for the therapist’s couch anymore. It’s a safer, gentler working world these days, as exemplified by companies like Zillow and its CEO Spencer Rascoff. And let’s not even touch on the constantly rehashed topic of Millennial fragility. This is not the office culture of Don Draper, Steve Jobs or even the dot com bubble of the early 2000’s. The ethos right now is supportive and positive. And that’s actually good for business. A vibrant office in which employees feel positive and engaged creates an energy that gets things done.

A team can’t mobilize without dialogue, testing ideas, and a willingness to be wrong sometimes. Rather than prescribing set learning objectives and rigid tasks, give employees access to all the information they may need for their roles at their fingertips, and let them search through the entire knowledge bank to get what they need, when they need it. They can even add their own notes and feedback, and communicate with other employees about their experiences. They may make mistakes from time to time, but learning by doing is a far more successful strategy for long-term growth than simply waiting for a manager to send over a to-do list.

#3 Step Back

A manager who believes in her team is willing to take a step back, refrain from the overwhelming urge to micromanage and let them make mistakes that they can quickly learn from, only to be rewarded with confident, capable, and in-control employees. An individual who feels a strong sense of ownership over his work, who feels trusted, will take on more and perform independently.

There is a direct link between contented employees and strong numbers. Awesome individuals, when properly managed, gel into a team greater than the sum of their parts. Provide them with the tools to create, share, analyze, and reflect. Model the behavior that works best for the task at hand, and trust that you’ve done your job and in turn, they shall do theirs (so you don’t have to). High-functioning employees will free you up to do more of what you do best.

#4 Ask and You Shall Receive

For a long time, the conversation between employers and employee went in one direction. These days, progressive managers begin instead with finding out how employees work best, what they believe are their strengths and weaknesses, and what sort of rewards they find especially motivating. Standard (not hackneyed) job interview questions can and should be readdressed in both formal and informal settings throughout the employee’s term.

Check in with employees to hear from them, in their own words, how are they finding success within the organization and how they are evolving.

The Takeaway

Personal empowerment in a professional environment requires a lot more than pithy aphorisms and trendy management theories. In fact, the formula here is not that complicated: high-functioning employees are perfectly capable of self-managing, with a little ongoing support and guidance, in a culture of trust and mutual respect. You’ve assembled a great team, so give them the right tools. They’ve got this.