Guardrails Support Autonomy in the Workplace

Most people love to have a sense of control in their lives. They like to have autonomy in the workplace and the freedom to make their own choices.

Contrary to popular belief, one of the best ways for people to be successful is to give them rules or guardrails.

And sometimes in many organizations that move very quickly, there aren’t enough of these guardrails in place.

Like the company we worked with where accountability for a very important process wasn’t crystal clear between two different departments. The driven leader of one department simply took charge. This was with the well-intentioned desire to improve it and to help the company be successful.

Understandably, this created conflict with the other department. They had a different view of how the process should be carried out and thought they should be driving it.

Both were just trying to do their best, but after a lot of friction for a year, the executive team had to step in and found that, ideally, accountability should have been with the other department.

All this could have been avoided with defined accountability and clear guardrails, at the beginning. Without them, people are just going to do what they think is best – and, sometimes, the loudest voice or the most ambitious person in room takes charge, which might not always be the right thing to do.

Guardrails allow people to pre-filter a bunch of decisions, within a process, rather than having to make a whole bunch of ad hoc decisions and constantly going to their manager for approval on every little thing.

Some Examples

  • In sales environments. Some organizations allow salespeople to negotiate a final price of a product or service. Others say that every deal must be signed off by the sales leader. And some others give people a range, with a target margin or sales price to achieve; and if the deal is within these parameters, salespeople can proceed. Anything outside those parameters needs to get approval.
  • Customer satisfaction. One company focuses on improving customer satisfaction by shipping orders on time. If operations saw that there was going to be a late shipment they were free to manage it as per normal. However, if there was a delay with a top-20 customer, there was a guardrail in place. They needed to have a discussion and get approval from the head of operations.
  • Investment criteria. Established, agreed-to principles that we would consider. For example, minimum profitability as a percentage, minimum profitability as a value within three years, minimum return on capital and a threshold of the impact on cash flow.

The Challenge

  • Where can you offer your team more autonomy in the workplace by setting up guardrails to guide their decisions?

About Kevin:

CEOs typically place their first call to Coach Kevin with a crisis to solve. They stay because of his business acumen and no-holds-barred, tell-it-like-it-is style.

Kevin’s career spans 20 years, over a dozen countries and four continents. He’s worked with hundreds of CEOs and executives, helping them to break through business challenges, grow their companies and find personal success along the way.

These experiences inspired Kevin’s book, Your Oxygen Mask First, in which he reveals the 17 habits every leader must know to transcend the perils of success, and achieve even more.

About Lawrence & Co:

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