4 Ways to encourage employee independence
We all love independence. It’s something we strive to have, a word we hope people describe us as, and a synonym of freedom, personal choice, and power. But, being independent, comes with a lot of dependencies (our Co-Founder Renn has some thoughts on that). To be truly independent, we have to find equilibrium with our dependencies. But what does that look like in the workplace? How do we, as leaders, encourage employee independence?
Whether you’re a team lead, manager, VP, C-Level Executive, or founder – here are some ideas to create independence for your employees:
1- Set expectations
People always say honesty is the best policy. And it is. But what is honesty without clarity?
When it comes to managing a team and encouraging employee independence, being honest AND clear about your expectations is key.
So what are expectations?
They’re strong beliefs that something will or should happen. At work they’re the assumptions we make about how someone works, how something should function, etc. For example, as a manager, you probably expect your team to hit their deadlines. If they can’t hit those deadlines, you expect them to tell you right away.
But you’ve likely had to chase someone down to get a status update on project, right Where does that miscommunication happen? It’s in verbalizing those expectations.
So make a list of your own expectations for your team. You could list them out per group, per project, even per role.
Here are some examples:
- Of my team – I expect them to respond to customer emails in a 24 hour window.
- For ABC project – I expect each contributor to bring a progress report to each meeting
- From my program manager – I expect an organized project dashboard that’s updated daily and a weekly status update email to the team.
How do expectations tie into independence?
If you and your team are clear on expectations, you don’t need to worry about a task getting done or an email getting answered. Sure, there may be some growing pains where you need to course correct, remind, even give hard feedback, but the guidelines are clear. Everyone has their marching orders and knows the metric they are being measured to.
But it’s a two-way street, they’ll also have expectations of you. Maybe it’s being accessible. Maybe it’s for mentorship. Start the conversation and gain more clarity together.
WARNING: A side effect of mutually living up to expectations is building trust.
2- Build trust
For your team to be independent, you have to trust them, and in turn, they have to trust you.
How do we build trust in the workplace?
The book, The Trusted Advisor breaks down trust into four components:
- Credibility – your expertise and credentials
- Reliability – your follow through
- Intimacy – your ability to create a sense of safety and security
- Self-Orientation – your focus on others versus yourself
What actions can you take to build trust?
- Credibility: Answer questions truthfully. Do your research.
- Reliability: Meet deadlines. Be proactive.
- Intimacy: Acknowledge mistakes. Share personal and professional stories.
- Self-Orientation: Listen more, speak less. Be curious and check your assumptions.
These are only a few actions you can take, but you get the idea.
Not only are these good starting points for you to build your team’s trust in you, but also to identify where your team may be losing your trust. If they’re not meeting their deadlines, maybe they’re lacking in reliability. Give them that feedback (constructively of course), so they can change and be set up for success when being independent.
Trust is a two way street though. Where are you lacking? And how can you build your team’s trust in you? They’ll feel more comfortable being independent if they know they can count on you.
Trust also means trusting your team to do the work, so sometimes you’ll need to take a step back.
3- Stop micromanaging
People feel they’re trusted when they’re given the space to make their own decisions. Don’t be a helicopter boss, quit micromanaging.
So what is micromanaging and how do you know if you’re doing it?
Webster defines micromanagement as, “manage[ment] or control with excessive attention to minor details.”
If you’re not delegating work, becoming overly involved in the work of your employees, or discouraging independent decision-making you’re probably micromanaging. And thus, stifling independence.
How do you stop micromanaging?
Well, you can start by setting expectations. Then start delegating effectively. Really be hands off. Let go of a perfectionist mindset. Accept that your way isn’t the only way. And ultimately, hire the right people.
Your team can’t be independent if you’re always looking over their shoulder. With the right training, they should be able to work independently.
4- Create a culture
Every step builds to this one – create a culture of independence.
Independence thrives in the expectations you set, the trust you build, and the projects you don’t micromanage.
To take it to the next level, include independence in your values, vision, and mission. Clearly state and show how independence plays into the company’s north star.
Use your peers for inspiration. Which companies do you feel have independent employees? What do they do?
Once you have some ideas, it all comes down to the policies you set and how you collectively live them. Don’t waiver.
Make it a conversation. Encourage your team to speak up and share their insights. Give recognition to those who are modeling independence.
So encourage independence…
Because teams who are free to make their own choices and decisions perform better, are happier, more engaged, and increasingly loyal to their organizations.
There will come a point when one of your team members doesn’t just want independence but NEEDS independence – to prevent burnout, to find a creative customer solution, to raise a family, to keep a project running, or you know, to navigate a global pandemic…
Encourage independence and set yourself and your team up for success.
If you’re looking for more hands-on help with encouraging employee independence, whether as a leader or as an employee, check out SNP’s 1:1 coaching program with Me360. Being independent doesn’t mean being alone.