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Freedom and Empowerment of Choice

Reinforcing autonomy seems to be more important in cultures high in individualism (where people value independence) and low in power distance (where people don't defer to authority)”, says organizational psychologist, Adam Grant. Initiatives can backfire when it robs the employee the freedom of choice. Often in the business environment, the employee is given the option of getting on-board with the directive or look for other employment. Management often falls short when performance managing the process, so there is no consequence and the employee does not execute the initiative anyway because it is easier to maintain the status quo.

I, myself, employ the technique of choice with my children at bedtime giving them a choice to either brush their teeth or use the potty. Both accomplish the goal of getting us through the bedtime routine faster and gives them the power to choose. However, with adults, this approach of providing the choice can seem manipulative and undermining. It is not regarding the number of choices we give adults, after all, studies have shown that more choices there are, the greater the fear of making the wrong one. Rather, the issue arrives with WHO the person is that is limiting the choices, i.e. the employer telling them to do the action or leave. The choice is not manipulative or undermining if it is a choice derived from the employee.

Initiatives are created to accomplish a goal. Ask your employees how they would like to reach the goal and have them create choices to do just that. Afterall, the first choice was already made when they agreed to work for the company and the company has clearly laid out its mission and vision.

For example: a bank is targeting a new goal of expanding deposit and loan growth. When asked how to accomplish that, the banker would likely say either by focusing on existing customer base or by attracting new customers. In this case, the banker decides to focus on the existing relationships customers currently have with the bank to grow the business. With this being the employee’s choice, they have taken the first step to move forward with the being engaged with executing plans with this focus. The next step is to is for them to articulate and demonstrate actionable items to achieve that goal. The role of the leadership team is to support that employee in accomplishing their goal.

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