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Maximum Autonomy
Weinbach (2008) discusses autonomy at all levels in the workplace as a solid characteristic in maintaining a healthy task environment. Leaders should create an environment that allows for employee independence and the utilization of their diverse knowledge and skills (Weinbach, 2008).

It is suggested that optimal autonomy in the workplace is when all employees are permitted to use their own professional judgment. Weinbach (2008) discusses that the goal of maximum autonomy is to encourage creative thinking and good decision making. Weinbach (2008) also explains that good leaders can differentiate and intervene (as necessary) among activities where:
• Creativity is not desirable and planning vehicles and controls are necessary.
• Creativity can and should be employed, and support for it should be offered.
• A certain amount of conformity is useful, but it is not critical.

A positive task environment is where staff feel free to use professional judgment and act on something without having to consult others beforehand. As long as the employee acts within policies and guidelines, they should know that even if things go wrong, they are supported by their superiors.


Below is an article from the Encyclopedia of Business that describes various forms of autonomy in the workplace. It is a different and approachable view of autonomy and it provides implications of usage. In addition, it provides suggested readings for additional understand of autonomy.

Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed.

AUTONOMY



Autonomy is the degree to which a job provides an employee with the discretion and independence to schedule their work and determine how it is to be done. Higher levels of autonomy on the job have been shown to increase job satisfaction, and in some cases, motivation to perform the job. In traditional organizations, only those employees at higher levels had autonomy. However, new organizational structures, such as flatter organizations, have resulted in increased autonomy at lower levels. Additionally, many companies now make use of autonomous work teams. Autonomy in the workplace can have benefits for employees, teams, managers, and the company as a whole, but it also may have drawbacks. Information regarding both the pros and cons of autonomy for these groups is discussed below.

EMPLOYEE AUTONOMY

According to job design theories, increased autonomy should make employees feel a greater responsibility for the outcomes of their work, and therefore have increased work motivation. Research indicates that when employees have greater levels of autonomy, their personality traits (specifically conscientiousness and extroversion) have a stronger impact on job performance. Thus, by giving employees more autonomy, they are better able to use their personal attributes to contribute to job performance.

Unfortunately, too much autonomy can lead to employee dissatisfaction. Each individual has a different level of need for autonomy in their job. Some workers prefer more direction from a manager and feel uncomfortable with autonomy; they may not want to exert effort or take the responsibility of having their name solely associated with a task, project, or product. Additionally, if employees are not well-equipped—either in training or in personality—to exercise autonomy, it may result in workplace tension and poor performance. Finally, when given autonomy, workers may believe that they have authority somewhat equal to that of their direct supervisor. This may cause them to resent the extra responsibility or feel that their pay should be increased. A related concern is that managers may feel marginalized when employee autonomy increases, particularly when there is a change to a traditional work environment. Managers may feel that by giving employees autonomy, they no longer contribute as much to the organization or that their jobs may be at stake.

MANAGERIAL AUTONOMY

Managers tend to have increased autonomy in organizations that are more decentralized. In such organizations, managers have more latitude to make decisions regarding the work of employees and even personnel decisions. For example, managers with increased autonomy may be able to assign merit raises to the employees in their unit at their discretion. As with employee autonomy, this freedom can result in feelings of motivation and satisfaction for the manager, who may be in a better position to reward and motivate employees. However, as with employee autonomy, managers who have autonomy may not be equipped to handle it. If managers make poor decisions, this may be harmful to employees and the organization as a whole. Using the example of autonomy in deciding pay raises, a manager may give merit pay increases that are significantly higher than those in other work units, which may cause problems across the organization.

TEAM AUTONOMY

In recent years, many organizations have made use of teams in the workplace, many of which operate autonomously. Self-managed work teams are those in which a supervisor gives little direction to the team, and the team members manage themselves. The success of such teams depends greatly on the team members, including their professional capabilities and their ability to work together. Oftentimes, such autonomous teams can greatly enhance an organization's ability to be creative, flexible, and innovative. However, as with individuals, too much autonomy in a team can reduce productivity. When individuals work too independently, their lack of communication and monitoring of one another may result in poor team performance. Additionally, without supervision the team may pursue goals that are different from those of the organization. Thus, periodic meetings and supervision from a manager may be necessary to avoid problems associated with too much autonomy.

AUTONOMY AND THE ORGANIZATION

The autonomy of employees and managers is often dictated by an organization's structure and culture; traditional, bureaucratic organizations often have little autonomy, but newer, more organic structures rely on autonomy, empowerment, and participation to succeed. Employee autonomy is believed to have minimized some of the relational barriers between superiors and subordinates. Therefore, autonomy may improve workplace functions through the ideas and suggestions of employees, and foster relationships with a greater degree of trust between management and employees. However, increased autonomy in the organization also may create disparity among units through different work practices and rules. In the worst case, increased autonomy may allow some employees to engage in unethical behavior. Thus, a certain amount of oversight is necessary in organizations to prevent wrongdoing that may go unnoticed when there are high levels of autonomy.

In conclusion, autonomy generally is a positive attribute for employees, managers, teams, and organizations as a whole. Employees typically desire autonomy, and its introduction can increase motivation and satisfaction. However, because too much autonomy can have organizational drawbacks, care should be taken when increasing it.

Marcia J. Simmering

FURTHER READING:

Gómez-Mejía, Luis R., David B. Balkin, and Robert L. Cardy. Managing Human Resources. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004.

Hackman, J.R., and G.R. Oldham. "Motivation through the Design of Work: Test of a Theory." Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 16 (1976): 250–279.





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Good Communication

Good communication in the task environment of an organization shapes the climate in which people work. Communication is suggested to occur in two forms (Weinbach, 2008):

1. Consisting of information that is specifically related to and supportive of the organization’s mission. Weinbach (2008) gives examples of this form of communication: it may consist of information about policies, advice on doing a job appropriately, and feedback on the desired end product. Also, this type of communication can be communicated through e-mail, staff meetings, newsletters, memos, notes on bulletin boards, or the phone (Weinbach, 2008).

2. Communication in the organization does not directly relate to the organization’s mission. This is a non-desirable form of communication, as it consists of emotional reactions on what is occurring and often has a negative effect on the task environment and the individual (Weinbach, 2008).



("Lack of Communication" - Hell's Kitchen, compliments of www.hulu.com)

Formal Communication Breakdowns
The leader of an organization is to promote supportive and good communication while restricting the destructive communication that can make employees of an organization unconstructive and sidetracked. Weinbach (2008) discusses that this goal is thought to be easily attainable; however, miscommunication, or line loss, can occur. Examples of this are: if a leader does not articulate properly to an employee, a leader assumes that the receiver will understand or want to listen, or a staff member does not read the bulletin board (where employee messages are posted) often. In addition Weinbach (2008) gives another example of line loss; when there was a mine disaster in West Virginia in 2006 and the relatives were wrongly informed that all of the miners were rescued alive, when in actuality there had only been one survivor. Leaders cannot assume that everybody already knows what has been communicated – they must take action and use good communication.
Power differential in communication is also important because the staff member may not share needed information with a leader because of the power that exists. It is imperative that as a leader, one must react with caution when being confronted on issues in the workplace. How the leader reacts to the information (i.e., revealing the source of the information, defensiveness, thanking for providing needed information, etc.) can influence non-communication or good communication in the future (Weinbach, 2008). Negative scenarios could possibly add to the continuation to a cycle of distrust among the leaders and employees of the organization (Weinbach, 2008).

Promoting Good Communication
Trust is a vital element of promoting good communication in an organization. Trust and distrust can be factors in the leader and employees receiving and not receiving good, accurate information. Weinbach (2008) states that it is intolerable to communicate only needed information to employees or the manager. Everyone must feel that the communication in the organization is effective and fair. Good leaders need to maintain a healthy work climate by sharing information regularly and honestly to allow the staff to do their jobs. Staff should know that there are rewards, not punishment, for relaying accurate, good communication, regardless of the message (Weinbach, 2008).

Looking at Theory Y, the attitude that communication supports the work of the employees and manager is based on the assumption that people value their work, want to do well, and will use communication to allow them to achieve objectives and goals within the organization (Weinbach, 2008). With this attitude, communication is effectively used for the benefit of all staff in doing their jobs.

Communication is also used in organizations with more of a Theory X situation. Staff in an organization learn that communication can be powerful, resulting in control and manipulation of employees (Weinbach, 2008). If information is withheld, improperly communicated, or staff are misinformed, staff will be reminded of their subordinate position. Believing that staff can be easily manipulated, a manager may communicate with numerous of employees and imply that they are unique of the trust they are instilled with (Weinbach, 2008). Staff will notice that others may be ridiculed by a manager and realize that the manager is probably ridiculing everyone, including themselves, behind their backs. Weinbach (2008) then says that staff’s trust will weaken and they will begin to resent their leader.

Obviously, as a leader, it is not appropriate to communicate with staff about other staff’s performances, unless it is with the manager’s peers or one’s supervisor. It can be tempting to use one’s communication as power but it should be avoided.



("David on Communication" - The Office (British Version) compliments www.adultswim.com)

A Valid Feedback System
Both favorable and unfavorable feedback are essential forms of communication. Of course it is more pleasurable to receive (and give) pleasant feedback, but critical feedback is also very important (Weinbach, 2008). The manager needs to know positive feedback so they can continue to do what is working, and they need the critical feedback so they can improve upon something and avoid repeating those actions. A leader should not let the positive feedback way heavily and not take into consideration the unfavorable feedback. Weinbach (2008) recommends that leaders leave all lines of communication open constantly to allow for a healthy task environment.

Weinbach (2008) explains that an evaluation technique that has become popular is an anonymous evaluation of the manager by the staff members. These evaluations can go through the manager’s superiors first or sometimes just to the manager (generally if they are the top-level manager). This trend, Weinbach (2008) explains, has one distinct benefit for both staff and the leader. The managers get evaluated and are able to then decide on changes, if any, they want to make; and the staff are able to report in confidence positive and critical aspects of the leaders’ work. This form of evaluation may also have a negative effect on the organization. The managers may fear negative feedbacks so they do not always do what needs to be done (i.e., reprimanding employees, denying pay raises, or giving justifiable low evaluations) (Weinbach, 2008).

Whatever the evaluation method used in any organization, we can only hope that the employees are working together and using good communicate. All employees should do what is in the best interest of the clients and the organization.