09/20/23 | Leadership, Workplace

Autonomy is all-powerful in the new workplace. Start with these 7 must-have skills

Now more than ever, employers want to know that workers are fully in charge.

As if the complexities of accelerating technology, climate change, and globalization weren’t enough to create a sense of unease in business and the workplace. Then add the after effects of a once-in-a-century pandemic into the mix, and it’s no wonder that most workers today feel like they are on shaky ground. In fact, chances are you could be one of them.

The good news? Amid all the uncertainty and chaos, workers who have the skills to take charge are more valued and rewarded by employers than ever before.

Thomas L. Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner for The New York Times and the author of “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” encourages workers to take the time—even if it means being late—to reflect on change, actions, and decisions to build such control. Friedman is describing the autonomous worker. 

Autonomous work

Autonomous work is the solution to many of today’s workplace challenges. Why? Because it allows the people closest to a situation to work independently, using their own insights, along with their collaborators’ insights, to collect the data and information they need to detect problems and opportunities. The end result is that people can make good and relevant decisions that benefit everyone involved, including their organizations. Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking all of that sounds well and good.

Still, such autonomy isn’t inevitable. It requires an intentional mindset that sets up and supports the skills of autonomy.

Put simply, your mindset is made up of four components: 1) your goals (what you’re aiming for); 2) your values (the core principles by which you aim to live your life); 3) your beliefs (the opinions, assumptions, and biases that you bring to any individual, group, or situation); and 4) your mode of work (how you go about doing your job).

The critical questions, then, are these: Does your mindset allow you to be autonomous? Are your goals in your current environment clear, feasible, and incrementally planned? Are your values aligned to your goals as they support each other, and is learning one of your primary values? Do your beliefs include positivity toward your ability to achieve your goals, as well as your collaborators’ ability to help you? And is your mode of work collaborative, making you aware and supportive of your collaborators’ mindsets?

Only you can answer those questions.

The seven skills of autonomy

A good place to start is to consider the seven skills that inform and inspire autonomy.

  1. Assess each component of your mindset. Ask yourself if your goals, values, beliefs, and mode of work are aligned with all your current projects, as well as with your collaborators and other stakeholders in those projects.
  1. Know your goals. Be clear on the results and outcomes that you and your collaborators want to achieve on each project, including a hierarchy of small, incremental goals that you may achieve daily or weekly.
  1. Recognize the power of exploring and learning. Never stop asking questions and seeking clarity on what you do—and don’t—know about every project, as well as what you hope to learn.
  1. Embrace data. Make sure you have access to the data and information you need to make the best-possible decisions, big or small. And if your company has a digital nervous system—a framework of basic data about everything from general operations to organizational strategy and vision—be certain to harness that force at every turn.
  1. Be confident in making decisions. Decision-making is nothing to be afraid of, especially as it concerns more systematic or routine choices. To get more comfortable and competent in making decisions, use analytical tools and techniques to guide the way.
  1. Reflect on your performance and progress. Consistently look for where you’re meeting targets, as well as how you can improve and learn, especially where you may have fallen short. Also, never fail to stop and celebrate your wins.
  1. Create new value. Pursue new ideas and opportunities early and often, with a watchful eye on how you and your collaborators can add value to your organization.

Finally, remember that you are your own best advocate. Begin now to recognize the need to take control in the post-pandemic workplace. That is the first step in having the right mindset—and becoming a valued and rewarded autonomous worker.

Jane Frankel

Jane Frankel

Jane Frankel is the managing principal of The Art of Performance LLC, an innovation and workforce consultancy, and an adjunct professor in economics at Temple University. She is the author of The Intentional Mindset: Data, Decisions, and Your Destiny (Business Expert Press).

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