As a business leader, you already have a full-plate. It’s your responsibility to overcome challenges ranging from changing consumer tastes to remaining compliant. You also need to keep your talented team motivated on a daily basis.

While there numerous ways for you to motivate your employees, nothing beats encouraging ownership. In fact, studies have found that when employees have more autonomy at work, they’re more satisfied. This in turn creates less turnover and higher engagement.

What exactly is autonomy?

“Autonomy is people’s need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions,” writes Joan F. Cheverie, manager of professional development programs at the higher education and IT nonprofit EDUCAUSE.

In other words, as a leader, you should be focusing on managing people and not tasks.

Additionally, autonomy is allowing your team to work how they prefer as long as they’re getting their work done. It’s also about giving up some control yourself and trusting that your team will get the job done.

“Autonomy, in other words, is the antithesis of micromanagement,” adds Cheverie.

“Instead of focusing on the minute details, you now need to direct your focus to the goals and strategic objectives for each staff member. Let them take care of the minor details of meeting those expectations.”

Cheverie says, “If you are able to create autonomy while holding people accountable for stated goals and objectives, you’ll find that the details get done without your having to worry about them.”

And, you can encourage autonomy by doing the following.

Start with the why.

This is simply communicating why the work your employees are doing is important. You can do this by frequently sharing your mission and vision to them. Then, you can show them how their roles are playing a part in reaching your mission and vision.

In other words, you need to tell your team how they fit into the bigger picture. Once they realize their place in the lineup, they’ll take control of their role.

Think of it this way. Your business is like a car. Each part has a specific function that allows the vehicle to run.

When one part breaks down, the car doesn’t run. Your business is the same. If one employee doesn’t do their job, business doesn’t run as smoothly.

If your employees realize this, they’ll be more inclined to take initiative or ownership of any decisions or situations that involve their position.

Encouraging ownership by allowing your team to speak-up.

Communication is a two-way street. You can’t expect your team to be motivated when there isn’t a conversation since you’re the only one talking.

Constantly ask for feedback and input from your employees on team projects and goals. Encourage their opinions on the decisions that impact the company. In short, give your employees a voice so that they can express their opinion.

While you obviously won’t act on each opinion, the point is that your team feels like they’ve been heard. When that happens, your team will not only be more engaged, they’ll also be more likely to collaborate with each other.

Let them choose the “how.”

Whenever possible, let your employees decide how they’ll achieve a task or solve a problem. Just because it’s not your way doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. As long as they’re getting the job done correctly and on-time, then let them work how they prefer.

Build trust.

Autonomy can’t exist without trust.

You can start building trust with your employees by:

  • Coaching, not commanding them.
  • Being honest and transparent.
  • Fulfilling your commitments.
  • Taking blame when your team fails, but giving them credit when they succeed.
  • Not talking behind their backs.
  • Leading by example.
  • Listening and talking less.
  • Admitting when you’re wrong.
  • Making sure that each team member succeeds.

Hold them accountable.

Even though you’re giving your employees freedom, you can’t completely let them go unchecked. You still need to hold them accountable so that they meet established goals and deadlines.

This doesn’t mean that you have to remind them daily on a deadline, for example. It means being positive that they’re going to live-up to their end-of-the bargain. After all autonomy is a two-way street, like communication.

You’re giving them a lot of leeway at work. That means on their end they’re going to have that task completed to you by the deadline.

Delegate effectively.

If you’re a control freak, then you’ve probably created a work environment where your employees need to check with you before making any decision. This wastes a whole mountain of time.

To combat this, you need to learn how to effectively delegate so that they can take responsibility for their own results.

Cameron Smith writes in the Daily Muse that you delegate correctly by:

  • Making sure that you’ve properly taught, trained, and guided your employees so that they can complete tasks on their own.
  • Hiring the right people based on their skills. Also look for individuals who are a good fit for your organization.
  • Selecting an employee who not only has the skills to complete the task, but also the time to do them.
  • Making sure that they see why their job contributes to the big picture.
  • Resisting the urge to micromanage. Provide them guidance and answer questions, but don’t get involved with every decision.
  • Following up with feedback.

Provide constructive feedback.

Speaking of feedback, make sure that it’s constructive and not nit-picky – regardless of the results.

This lets your employees know how they’re doing and what actions they should take to improve. If you notice that a team member needs some assistance, then provide them with the coaching or training to improve.

When you offer feedback and opportunities for them to strengthen their knowledge and skills, you’re setting your employees up for success. And when they successful, you won’t have to be provide as much feedback since they’re making fewer mistakes.

Let them share their strengths and talents.

Let’s say that you have an employee who’s a wiz at social media. Even though it’s not a part of their job description, give them the reigns of your social channels once in awhile. It’s an opportunity for them to show off their strengths and talents.

Give them the right tools and resources.

I’ve mentioned several times that encouraging ownership means giving your team a chance to thrive. The only way that they can do their job correctly and quickly is by having the right tools and resources. Whether it’s through training or providing them with the latest technology, this shows them they you want to invest in their ideas and skills.

Mistakes happen. Relax.

Finally, you need to realize that mistake will be made. When an employee makes an innocent mistake, yelling at them, either in front of the team, or by themselves isn’t going to motivate them. It’s going to do the exact opposite. Who wants to come into a company when when they’re afraid of their boss?

Instead, use mistakes as a learning opportunity so that the employee won’t make the same mistake again.