May 10

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As a professional do you have autonomy?

In the previous article on resilience I referred to the four traits of a ‘super’ professional: resilience, autonomy, agility and clarity.

This article explores what autonomy means for professionals — you want more autonomy and control of your professional practice, your work and your career. Autonomy means being able to make decisions independently, without having to refer to someone else, to be self-governing.

But to achieve autonomy you first have to master your core skill set — as competence and autonomy must go together. Just think about being in complete control and having no clue about what you are doing — not cool!

To succeed as a professional you have to have a combination of skills that are currently in demand. The flip side of this is that you need to be constantly renewing your skillset, what I refer to as your professional practice, as the job environment changes.

Competence

So you have to be competent in your skillset, and the skills are in demand before you can expect to get autonomy. You have to put in the time and effort to learn the skills, get the experience and build your professional practice.

Initially, you will have less autonomy or control (and hence need less resilience) because someone else higher-up is making all the decisions. Once you develop your appropriate skill set you can expect more autonomy. If not, then its time to look elsewhere.

As an employee, you could consider another division, or try another employer, or you could become a consultant or work for yourself as a freelancer.

In the pre-autonomy phase professionals should adopt the mindset of a voracious consumer, willing to learn everything you can about your discipline, your profession, your employer, your industry — collect valuable short-cuts, skills and knowledge.

Some employers create opportunity for autonomy for their best employees.

For example, Google has ’20 per cent time’ where staff can work on any project they like for 20 per cent of their time. More than half of Google’s new products are created this way. They have found that people working this way, with more autonomy, work faster, use fewer resources and are more innovative.

Since 2003 Jody Thompson and Carli Ressler have been assisting companies implement their concept of Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Here employees are 100% autonomous but at the same time are 100% accountable for delivering results.

Employees are paid on results and do not have prescribed time and number of hours they must work. So they can work when they want, as long as they need to, just get the results.

In companies that have implemented this approach productivity and job satisfaction have gone up, and turnover went down.

Autonomy is a desired trait of ‘super-professionals’ and comes with the need for competence in the professional’s particular skill set — learned experience and knowledge.


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