Without this next element of the V-RAMP model of ensuring intrinsic employee engagement, workplaces run the risk of becoming ‘anti-initiative’ zones where actively disengaged employees lurk, waiting to be told what to do next.
The antidote – Autonomy.
Watch the video to escape the disastrous effects of disengagement, and to learn how ride the crest of employee ‘drive’ in your team.
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A noteworthy attribute connecting freedom fighters across the ages is that they’re willing to, and sometimes do, embrace martyrdom for freedom.
Their primary motivation seems to stem from the desire to overthrow oppressive dictators and regimes. That’s understandable because we’re all hardwired to fight or flee suffering.
Recent research, a bulk of which has been published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2016, has however highlighted yet another motivator driving freedom fighters and the like. We also seem hard-wired to desire Autonomy. Autonomy can be defined as the ability to make choices according to one’s own free will. Something oppressive regimes suppress.
If we feel coerced by internal pressure like feelings of guilt or shame or by external pressure exerted by people or events, our feeling of autonomy vanishes. Apparently, that does not sit well with us.
Amy Arnsten , Professor of Neuroscience and of Psychology at Yale University studied the effects of arousal of the limbic system (primarily responsible for our emotional life) on the functioning of the prefrontal cortex (the most evolved brain region—serving our highest-order cognitive abilities like logical reasoning and also the part of the brain most susceptible to effects of stress exposure). Amy postulates that the loss of our cognitive abilities occurs primarily when we feel out of control. Like when we’re being micromanaged.
Arnsten states that it’s the prefrontal cortex itself that determines if we are in control or not. Even if we have the illusion that we are in control, or have choices, our cognitive functions are preserved.”
And Autonomy is key in stimulating this sense of control or choice in the prefrontal cortex.
A great example of Autonomy in action can be found at Australian software company called Atlassian. One of the initiatives Atlassian runs to promote autonomy at work is a 24-hour event called ‘ShipIt’, where Atlassian developers are given 24 hours of free time to work on anything they want (as long as it’s not part of their regular job), but they have to ‘Deliver something overnight.’ ShipIt Days typically begin on a Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm and end with a spirited round of presentations delivered exactly 24 hours later.
It sounds like a recipe for chaos, but ‘ShipIt’ has become one of Atlassian’s biggest success stories, with the special Autonomy time leading to many important product developments, like the noteworthy improvements made to their flagship Jira software. And ‘ShipIt’ is now becoming a global phenomenon.
Ask an Atlassian what they love about their workplace, and there’s a fair chance they’ll mention ‘ShipIt’ Days. Why? For one, it’s almost a community event for Atlassians – everyone participates- with the company supplying pizza and beer for everyone on ‘ShipIt’ Thursday nights. (It IS an Australian company, after all)
But more importantly, participants are completely self-organising, devoid of any interference from management. Participants work on whatever they want, whatever inspires them. And they get to assemble their own crews.
It is a celebration of Autonomy, and why Atlassians find it so energizing, empowering, and addictive – something no incentive or inducement could possibly generate.
Imagine all the creative potential, and by association, bottom line benefits that Atlassian would have lost had employees been required to merely stick with their ‘day jobs.’
All things considered though, there are boundaries that must be established and respected if autonomy is to thrive.
Facilitating autonomy at work is not the same as granting absolute independence, or discouraging accountability.
Also, any amount of autonomy that an employee exercises should be in-line with the organization’s policy framework. Autonomy without accountability or boundaries is simply chaos.
Autonomy is one of the keys to happy employees. If we get past the simplistic ‘carrots vs sticks’ ideology and allow people to be more motivated by autonomy, who knows what wonders we might be driven to accomplish.