Any good manager knows that trusting the staff they’re responsible for is one of the most important leadership virtues they could show. Micromanaging staff is a quick way to demoralize them, and strain the working relationship you’re trying to cultivate.
That said, autonomy needs to be a two-way street, in that your employee needs to prove themselves worthy of it. After all, the buck stops with you as a business manager, and so it’s essential that you’re aware of the decisions being made.
As such, autonomy needs to be met with accountability, at all levels, including yours. As someone trying to structure a department or lead and expand a team, this can be a hard ask. Thankfully, after a little practice and a willingness to learn from inevitable mistakes, you’ll be able to come to a healthy solution. In this post, we’ll try to identify what those solutions could be, and how to move forward from there.
Without further ado, please consider the following advice:
Defining Where Accountability Should Lie
It’s important to consider what accountability means, so you know exactly how to observe it, and integrate disciplinary systems that work and are fair. For example, it may be that you give a certain junior manager control over safety equipment in a department thanks to how familiar they are with it. As such, part of their duties is to inspect the equipment and replace damaged items quickly, to document and report all of this. Because of how important this is to the safety and well-being of your employees, any failure to do this might lead to suspension without pay, and even dismissal if it leads to an incident.
That’s just one example. Accountability can relate to data privacy and protection, abiding by the social media policy of your company to prevent reputational damage, the necessary upkeep of fire safety protocols, and more. Lay all of this out in distinct, always-accessible documentation, hold regular training courses and even vet your employees by making sure they follow policy at all times.
It’s also important that accountability systems are fair and not vengeful. A good accountability system should help you identify where flaws took place, help you become crystal clear about the failure of a given issue, and apply appropriate disciplinary procedures. This helps false accusations. For example – CCTV in your warehouse can help you identify if an employee might be stealing essential inventory as opposed to blaming the manager for incorrect stock counts. When staff trusts in your accountability systems, they won’t feel as though you’re looking over their shoulder, they’ll just know that following your processes is enough to remain a trusted and autonomous employee.
As such – accountability does not limit autonomy but allows for it.
Consistent, Capable Record Keeping
Record keeping is there to protect your business and your employees too, to make sure they followed all procedures at the right times. This might include stock counts, reports of injuries sustained during unfortunate accidents (while accidents do have failings, sometimes they’re just accidents and fault cannot be ascribed), as well as processes followed.
Records might showcase the exact process of a manager closing down a restaurant kitchen for the night to preserve food safety, or it might discuss at length the disciplinary process of a given employee. When all of this can be properly integrated using templated documents, with signoff approvals given at multiple levels of the organization where required, you get to implement a routine of accountability and oversight, which can only be healthy. This way, small issues or a lapse of procedure can be spotted way in advance of them causing issues, or problems can be contained more credibly.
Clear, Defined Disciplinary Procedures
Disciplinary procedures are the last consequence of accountability measures, and sometimes, they have to be used. Of course, this can run the gamut from a small verbal warning that you don’t keep a record of, to a full dismissal without benefits or compensation depending on the egregious conduct offered.
However, a graded system of escalating responses is important to lay out and communicate ahead of time. For instance, a written warning might be the first step, the second may be suspension with pay, all the way up to dismissal as discussed.
These are just three examples, there may be several disciplinary measures implemented such as demotion, a strike system, and more. Depending on your industry, the type of business you run, and the kind of employment contract you’re in with the affected individual, your response could differ. For instance, you may work with subcontracted copywriters who need to generate original content for your daily projects. If they’re found to be plagiarising articles they’ve written for other brands, well, immediate dismissal is of course appropriate.
What matters is making these disciplinary procedures baked-in to your hiring consequences, laid out in the contract, and of course, transparent to all. This way, you protect your own self, and abide by employment law and compliance.
An Appeals Process
Sometimes, even accountability measures can fail, or be a little premature in their conclusions. This is why you may integrate an appeals process in your disciplinary measures.
This way, your employee has a chance to refute the allegations, provide appropriate evidence, or exercise their rights in regards to their contract. For example, if they tried to work a task that their manager had told them to complete, despite that not being part of their contact, then they may have some wriggle room if it was performed incorrectly.
Appeals processes will add fairness to the equation, which is essential in any disciplinary process.
Showcase Exactly Where Autonomy Lies
If you’re going to offer autonomy, of course, it’s important to clarify exactly what that means. After all, autonomy is not the same as free license to do whatever. Only very accomplished individuals can make decisions with no oversight, such as the leaders of a company (even if they’re bound by compliance and auditing), or highly creative individuals, such as when George Lucas was free to put any old idea into his prequel Star Wars films.
Where autonomy lies can be hard to add parameters to, but doing so is important. Let’s say you have a marketing professional capable of managing your social media channels. Perhaps after some training time they’ll be permitted to publish posts themselves, schedule YouTube videos for your content publishing routine, reply to inquiry emails or forward them to the relevant departments, and respond to support requests. All of this makes require no approval from the manager, but can still be viewed by the manager at any time. This way, autonomy is not without conditions but helps you avoid micromanaging every step forward.
Another example – with fuel cards for small businesses, your logistical staff can more easily access the fuel recourses they need while on the road, and expenditures can be adjusted appropriately, helping you avoid issues that might occur with bad receipt-keeping and more. As such, you’ll have integrated a system that ensures accountability without stepping on your drivers’ toes.
Work With, Not On Top Of
You may be in control of certain employees, able to refine and develop their careers, able to tell them what to do and how to do it, as well as discipline them if they run counter to defined procedures.
That said, it’s important to make sure this work is integrated into a team effort, and autonomy is defined as part of that. So for example, you may set deadlines and parameters for the work to be completed by and within, and you may ask if they need assistance, but then you’ll let their work do the talking, and allow them to exercise their own judgement.
This kind of hands-off but still observant approach allows developing employees to generate their best work, and it also frees up your own time as a manager. Working with, and not on top of them (unless you need to), will make a big difference to their motivation, how trusted they feel, and also what kind of management style you develop over time. With good communication and transparency, you should encounter few problems by making trust part of your process.
With this advice, you’re sure to balance autonomy with accountability at every level of your business.