Why Employee Autonomy Is Good for Your Business

  • Feb 12, 2023

Shawn LaFave noticed a new press operator was staging shirts with the imprint side-down, when his team always staged them print side-up. “He gave valid reasons why he did it that way, so we changed our SOPs to reflect his method,” says LaFave, president and chief branding officer at NGA Promotions

“As a business owner, it may feel counterintuitive to allow team members to be autonomous. However, by giving them freedom, you allow your business to morph into a better operating entity, with happier employees.”
Shawn LaFave, president and chief branding officer at NGA Promotions

It’s time to eliminate any shades of “Please, may I” in your shop, and replace it with autonomous working. When you give employees the freedom to make decisions as they’re working, you end up with a happier team and a more productive business, with a competitive edge. Let’s look at seven ways giving more autonomy to  employees is better for your shop, and six steps to get your culture there faster.

Why Employee Autonomy Is Good for Your Shop

‍1. Employee autonomy boosts creativity and productivity. 

When you allow staffers to work independently, they find ways to work faster and more efficiently. Because they’re not being stressed by micromanagement, they’ll feel more encouraged to try new things, leading to innovations and improved processes in your shop.  

“Autonomous employees with ownership take pride in their work. They’ll work harder to meet deadlines and produce higher-quality products.”
Alison Banholzer, owner of Wear Your Spirit Wearhouse 

2. Autonomous employees make better decisions – and keep you more competitive. 

They’re in the trenches and are able to  make the best quick decisions. They usually don’t need to ask a manager how to do something, because they already know based on their own experiences. “That’s why our employees come up with improved ways to get things done,” Banholzer says. 

“They have a vested interest in making their workload easier and faster, so they get creative to improve processes.” On the flip side, employees who must wait for a manager to tell them what to do aren’t contributing to making your shop more competitive.

3. Employee engagement and morale go up, and turnover goes down. 

When companies give employees the autonomy to choose their preferred way of working and the tools to do so, workers are more likely to be engaged with their work, motivated to do their best, take pride in what they’ve accomplished and stay committed to the job, according to Gallup and Harvard Business Review studies. 

“Giving your staff the space to make decisions, and sometimes mistakes, leads to a stronger sense of camaraderie.”
Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO of Rowboat Creative

4. An autonomous culture promotes skill development and builds leaders from within. 

“As the owner, it’s on you to provide the proper training and put the right team members in place to work together,” Guariglia says. “Staying in tune with your team’s progress is a cornerstone of what you do. As future leaders, they’re almost more crucial to a company than an owner.” 

5. Autonomous employees let you focus on your job as the owner.  

“Owners who are too involved in the day-to-day and micro-managing don’t have the time to focus on higher-level action items that will better the company. As the owner, it’s your job to put the right people in place and trust them to do their jobs. Creating an autonomous culture is crucial to empowering teams.”
Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO of Rowboat Creative 

How to Create an Autonomous Shop Culture

It’s not easy to let go and let an autonomous shop culture happen, but the good news is that there are some steps you can take to achieve the right balance of autonomy and accountability in your business.

1. Change your own mindset first. 

“Owners all have the sense that no one will care the way we do. This might be the case initially, but when you have the right team, they absolutely will."
Lucas Guariglia, co-founder and CEO of Rowboat Creative

We call our team our ‘family’ for a reason. When you empower them, they have a sense of pride and responsibility.” When you shift your view of management from “giving orders” to “offering guidance when needed,” you’ll see your direct reports work in their own way to get the job done well. 

2. Set crystal-clear expectations. 

LaFave creates thorough job descriptions with milestones a staffer would need to hit and in what time frame to receive a pay scale increase or a promotion. At Wear Your Spirit Warehouse, Banholzer’s team knows she tracks production efficiency (i.e, pieces per hour or setup times), on-time/late delivery rates and a final QC on all jobs. 

“This gives me peace of mind that my staff is efficient, on time and producing a quality product,” she says. “In turn, I give them the autonomy to accomplish their work in a manner that suits them.”

3. Tell employees to identify and solve problems. 

At A&P Master Images, CEO Howard Potter uses in-house software to assign the daily and weekly workflow. “We tell them to handle their jobs and issues as they arise,” he says.  

“They mark their tasks and jobs as done, so we get a bird’s-eye view of the jobs at-a-glance. If there’s a snag or they’re behind, we just ask them to inform their managers of the issue and how they’re handling it.”
Howard Potter, CEO at A&P Master Images

4. Tell them to assume the answer is “yes.” 

Instead of reinforcing the “Please, may I” culture of needing to get a manager’s approval over the smallest decisions, let your team know they’re free to make choices with their colleagues. “Everyone knows that if they don't do their job correctly or cause a bottleneck in the system, it affects everyone who worked on that order before and after them,” says Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision

“The unique part of a decorated apparel business, is that every order touches a lot of different hands, so the team is relying upon one another to work together and get the job to the finish line. When there’s accountability and responsibility, people try to make the right decisions and keep the manager informed of what’s happening, rather than asking them to step in.”
Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision.

5. Ask employees for honest feedback. 

Potter and LaFave both have open-door policies so their managers or staff can share concerns at any time. “This creates trust with team members,” LaFave says. “When they can provide recommendations on how something should be done, they experience more freedom.”

6. Give employees a say on pay, benefits and rewards. 

“Before we offered PTO or paid holidays and people needed to take time off, you could cut the tension in the building with a knife."
Howard Potter, CEO at A&P Master Images

“Staffers were scrambling for overtime or trying to figure out how to make up the time to get a full paycheck.” That’s when Potter listened to his employees and allocated at least $40,000 annually to offer PTO of 40 hours per year, seven paid holidays and four-day workweeks. 

“Suddenly, the team was happier and less stressed, and in turn more productive,” he says. To cover the expense, Potter divided the total number of pieces they produce a year by that cost and increased the per-piece cost for his customers by 25 cents. “As the owner, you need to put yourself back in their shoes,” he says. “Try to provide the benefits that are most meaningful to them.”

‘You Just Need to Trust Your Teams’

Rauen, who has developed a very hands-off management style, values employee autonomy and letting them take ownership in what they do. “Everyone on the team knows the expectations, and at the end of the day, it’s about living up to the customers’ expectations and delivering what we promised, and not letting the ball drop when it's in your court,” he says. Learning to let go as a business owner is one of the hardest things to do. 

“Forcing yourself to take some time off and an extended vacation helps create that autonomy, since you aren't there to fall back on or rely on to get the job done. Once you do it and place trust in your team, everything gets better from there.”
Tom Rauen, CEO of Envision.

‍Source: S & S Activewear

Feb 12, 2023

  • Category: Business Advice, Productivity Tips
Close Search