Saturday, July 9, 2011

Freedom & Knowledge Workers` Performance

Too many managers today are so obsessed with increasing productivity and guiding innovation that they virtually kill creativity and passion - the intrinsic motivation that keeps people deeply engaged in work - by refusing to give people autonomy. As a result, too many professionals with enormous talent, experience and drive to do meaningful work feel practically suffocated.

Let`s take an example. Sara, a marketing executive with an MBA, works as a product manager in a consumer appliances company. Her team is technically in charge of developing the next generation household appliances. Recently, they built a new electric kettle that consumed less power and had an ergonomic handle. Apparently, the product was an excellent innovation and deserved to be recognized as such. But, she found that the top management who included the Vice President-R&D was too skeptical. They had her change the product several times before they gave approval. She felt that they, the top management, kept all the important decisions to themselves and wavered wildly in those decisions seldom explaining and never consulting with the team. She also felt that their behaviour caused them to start, stop, and re-start etc sapping their creative energies.

When people have a say in what they do, they feel intrinsically motivated and acquire a sense of achievement when they progress in work. Also, when people have the freedom to decide how they accomplish a particular task or reach a particular goal, they become more creative. There is autonomy where people can make meaningful decisions and feel confident that those decisions will hold, that is excepting grave errors and dramatic shifts in conditions. Where management overrides their decisions for no fair reason, people will no longer feel motivated to make decisions, which seriously undermines progress. Work gets inordinately delayed if people are compelled to wait for approval irrespective of the scope and potential implications of a particular decision.

There is ample research evidence suggesting that the profound expertise of many knowledge workers went untapped and that their initial excitement about tackling challenging projects soon got evaporated. This resulted from those managers` persistent belief that to do a good job, they had to direct the work - tell people exactly what to do and how to do it, changing it as they alone saw fit. These managers failed to comprehend three things:
  1. Managers themselves almost never have the specific knowledge that well-trained, experienced professionals have about the work they are doing. Failing to make use of that knowledge is a terrible waste of resources. 
  2. Professionals become demoralized and lackadaisical if they don`t have the autonomy to at least co-direct the work they are doing.
  3. Organizations will see spectacular failures if their professionals become disengaged. Even if those professionals don't quit the organization for greener pastures, they're not performing at their best.
So, managers have to understand that it is counterproductive to ignore professionals` ideas and micromanage their projects, that they should be given specific, meaningful goals and be allowed to decide how to achieve those goals, that they are passionate about their expertise and creativity, that they deserve to be believed in and that if they are respected as professionals worthy of autonomy, they will perform even better.

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