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How to Give Employees Independence Without Losing Control

How to Give Employees Independence Without Losing Control

Every business owner knows how to wear a lot of hats. When first striking out on your own, you have a hand in finances, marketing, product design, and everything in between. But as your company grows, you need to empower your employees to feel that same sense of independence.

Autonomy is one of our fundamental human needs--an essential component of a healthy workplace. "It fills our need for intrinsic motivation," says Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and founder of Dattner Consulting. By that he means our need to be driven by personal interest and enjoyment.

Employees that feel empowered are happier, more motivated, more committed to their jobs, and less stressed. The latter is especially true for demanding workplaces since independence gives workers a sense of control in stressful situations.

The benefits for business owners are clear: "[Greater autonomy] can lead to lower turnover and higher levels of creativity, innovation, and even performance," says Dustin Jundt, an organizational psychologist at Saint Louis University.

Consider these three tips to give employees independence without giving up control:

1. Specify the goal, not the means. "As you grow, you don't want the organization to be so hierarchical that it can't be adaptive," Dattner says. "You want people to experiment and make game-time decisions."

To encourage creativity, give clear guidelines for a project's quality, deadline, and purpose, but leave the rest up to your employees. Your team may not execute the project exactly as you would have, but their strategy may be just as good or better.

Related: A Secret to Creative Problem Solving

2. Set up checks and balances. As a business owner, you need to be passionate about your ideas, but that enthusiasm can become a liability when there's no room for second opinions. 

"Every leader is subject to biases and errors," Dattner says. "You need to build in mechanisms for being proven wrong and allow the freedom to debate other strategies." To do that, avoid surrounding yourself with "yes-men." 

"You want confident advisors who will push back and help vet your ideas rather than validating your own rose-tinted glasses," Dattner adds.

Related: Dermalogica's Jane Wurwand on the Creative Process

3. Know yourself. As you allow others more freedom and responsibility, understanding yourself can help ease the transition. 

"You have to be pretty secure to say, I'm going to hire a finance person who has more experience in finance than I do and I won't understand everything they're doing," Dattner says. Try taking a free, online personality test recommended by Dattner to assess your strengths and weaknesses. The online test was created in the 1990s by a psychology professor at Penn State University, DuBois. A free app version, iPsy also became available in 2011.

It's important to understand your own feelings and have a sense of what others are experiencing around you, which is referred to as emotional intelligence. You can then identify what motivates each of your employees and empower them in ways they'll find fulfilling.
 

Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.

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