How can your performance management system adapt to embrace employee autonomy?

Everyone has their own preferred way of operating in the workplace. Some employees are cautious, some work well with structure and guidance, while others are far more independent and autonomous in their approach.

Independent employees, also known as ‘workplace rebels‘, are people who resist authority, control or tradition. At first sight, this might sound frustrating, but a workplace rebel isn’t always a bad thing. These employees could just as likely be talented top performers who contribute greatly to the overall productivity and performance of the business.

There’s been a lot of recent research into the benefits of autonomy in employees. One study found that companies whose employees reported high levels of freedom were 10-20 times more likely to outperform organisations who were more controlling. Increasing levels of autonomy can also improve creativity, decision making, job satisfaction, intrinsic motivation and loyalty, and even reduce stress levels.

These are incredible benefits which suggest we should wholeheartedly welcome independent employees as part of our team. But how can managers do their jobs and effectively manage a workplace rebel – someone who doesn’t want to be managed at all? Whether they like it or not, you need to stay on top of their performance. Their workplace preferences can’t impede your ability to do your own job. Thankfully, there are ways to compromise and give your independent employees room while ensuring everyone involved is contributing, progressing and content.

Below, we’ll cover how to adapt your performance management system to get the most out of your workplace rebels.

Setting clear SMART objectives is critical

The setting of SMART objectives is always an integral aspect of performance management. But if your independent employees want space and freedom, it is more important than ever that they are clear on what is expected of them and what targets they are working towards. It is also critical that they keep you updated on their progress.

Forbes recommends setting clear, measurable objectives. This way, if independent employees fall short of expectations, you can argue from the perspective of data, not opinion. There’s no problem stepping back and allowing employees to do things in their own way, but when they fail to achieve their goals, they need to be made aware of how it impacts others.

We advise that employees should collaborate with managers on objective setting rather than having objectives set from above. This adds a further level of autonomy that independent employees will appreciate.

Hold regular one-on-one meetings to discuss progress

If your independent employee wants space and hates micromanagement, you should certainly allow them this freedom. However, periodic check-ins are still important. We recommend monthly check-ins with employees. This allows you to build trust and honest communication with your employees. It also gives you the opportunity, as manager, to discuss their goal progression.

Managers should communicate that these meetings are as much for the employees as they are for management. Show you are willing to listen to them and take their feedback on board.

Always be on hand for in-the-moment feedback

Just because an employee wants minimal supervision, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on hand at all times, in case your advice and guidance is needed. To effectively manage independent employees, managers need access to a tool that allows for direct, instant feedback. Our performance review software facilitates in-the-moment feedback across all devices, which will help you give recognition and address issues with staff sooner. It will also allow employees to get on with their work in a more confident manner.

Remind independent employees that they are still part of a team

On occasion, independent employees might need to be reminded that they are part of a wider team. They need to work alongside their employees, they need to communicate and they need to assist others when required. Autonomy is great, but when it gets in the way of teamwork, managers need to step in and give employees context on the bigger picture. Explain how other people are relying on them to do their job and to have certain tasks completed by a certain time – otherwise, the whole company is affected.

True independence can’t be granted to underperforming employees

If employees are performing spectacularly and without issue, they should certainly be granted higher levels of freedom. They have shown themselves to be capable and responsible while remaining team players. However, once output begins to slip, managers have a problem. It simply isn’t reasonable for underperformers to be granted high levels of autonomy. These employees will likely require extra supervision and assistance in order to get them on the right track. They might not like it, but underperformance has consequences, and independent employees need to be aware of this. If you need help in this area, we have advice on how to identify and manage underperformers.

Our performance management software is used by large and small companies around the world to improve productivity and employee satisfaction. To find out how we can benefit your business, book a free performance management software demo now.