How to encourage employees to be more independent

Interesting title, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

An independent personality, they say, is an inherent trait. Psychologists could write endlessly on it. In a moment of pensiveness, one might muse that those who grew under conditions of strict discipline may have had some of their natural exuberance robbed…unless they acquired cunning in bypassing the rules. Or else, one who grew up in an atmosphere where independence was encouraged might need no later coaching. They are natural winners!

Companies take much time and effort in finding the right employee.  Both credentials and perceived personality traits are minutely checked against the job requirements. The one hired to handle the accounts would show conscientiousness, work ethics and organizational skills.  He could be somewhat obsessive, and even stubborn, but no matter this, his job is done well. On the other hand, it would not do for the marketer to have these traits. Rather, he would be agreeable, competitive and thrive on interaction, even if he could tend to be somewhat argumentative (that’s a different issue). The employer would judge all sorts of things within minutes of meeting the prospect - from the way they dress to the way they move.

But having decided and taken them into the payroll, what happens if the culture of the workplace is not conducive to independence? We know of a case where a brilliant, independent thinker joined an organization, saw room for much improvement in his area but was hesitant – because the culture of the organization was such that the “nine-to-fivers” would have shot him!  So where do you start?

There are easy steps an employer could take to encourage independence in employees. Here’s an actual case.

An employee joined an organization.  There was a great orientation process.  People were nice. A mentor was assigned. But, there were procedures for everything, a policy and procedure manual for the very turning of one’s head. There was no room for independence. Things were moving at a slow and stolid pace.  

After a while, the company noticed the employee was a genuine hard worker. Everything was done in double quick time.  This showed efficiency. Very little time was spent in corridors and lunch rooms.  This showed dedication. The employee hardly worked overtime. This showed honesty.  Then one fine day, a valuable member of the staff suddenly left the company and the “efficient employee” (EE) was chosen to stand in “…. till the replacement came”.  The replacement never came. 

EE had only a vague idea of the job. Except for past records, no help was at hand.  A huge effort in independence was required. The company bent itself backward in providing all the cooperation EE needed, not for any other reason but in sheer desperation. Here are some of those measures. They worked!

  1. EE was given independence and autonomy. The company had no other choice!
  2. He was challenged. They had thrown a lot on his plate. He was forced to think independently - either that, or throw in the towel.  
  3. The company showed confidence in him. He was a little flattered, hence, he did not feel like going for option (2)  though it crossed his mind several times.
  4. EE found he needed to use creativity to arrive at solutions to matters that could have mired him.  Without realizing it, the company had unearthed his creativity. EE sought technology packages that would make his work smarter and found the company amenable to change. The company realized that many of the hidden tedious tasks could be accomplished very quickly using these packages. An example is the BQu TMS App that captures a vast amount of data which could be synchronized to the main databases.
  5. The company started to (solicitously) seek feedback. EE liked that! There was more communication with the top than before.
  6. The company showed appreciation in little ways.
  7. The company hinted at positive career progression. This thought kept drifting in and out of EEs mind in the more difficult moments.
  8. EE found that the company granted him some small privileges in return for his special effort. This also translated to looking the other way when he had to leave the office on short breaks on personal matters (as long as the work was flowing steadily and satisfactorily to the boss’s table).
  9. The company was also magnanimous in overlooking EE’s natural human faults.  EE had this awful habit of leaving his desk and the building at prime work hours at times. He probably really needed a smoke! The maximum the company would come up with were mild remarks, and never rebukes.
  10. EE’s co-workers started to sit up and think. There seemed to be a ripple effect in those who always gave 75%-80% to the job now vying to give at least 90%. Competitiveness was naturally induced. The company did not need to spend on employee motivation workshops.

EE found he was happy. True, work was hard, but the overall conditions were on his side - so he felt.  On its part, the company had, without conscious effort and in spite of its heavy dependence on the procedures manual that connected the company to an international network, hit on the secret of encouraging independence in the employee. It appears that workplace motivational and efficiency programs cannot beat a planned psychological approach to encourage employees to be more independent. 

Created: May 13th, 2016


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