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Your team wants more direction, not less.
Autonomy = explicit standards + the freedom to execute.
“What are the standards for the team?”
It’s an innocent enough question that I ask all the time on coaching calls.
What continues to surprise me is the responses I get.
I’ve yet to come across a leader that has explicitly defined the standards for their team. And why would they? It’s not an obvious thing to do when you’re worried about pipeline, metrics, quotas, and your boss breathing down your neck.
After I tell them in no uncertain terms “You need to define what great looks like for your team” I get a mixed bag of responses.
Some people are all for it, with a willingness to take what I say and put it into action.
Some people balk at the idea, with a sense of dread that it’s too micromanage-y or too corporate. “That’s for big companies.”
I get it. I would have balked at the idea too in the not-so-distant past.
But giving your team the autonomy that grown adults deserve, and setting an explicit standard are not mutually exclusive.
A couple months ago I was coaching a sales leader for a tech company. He fits in the former group - folks that are willing to implement anything that works. So when I suggested he build a standards and expectations document alongside his team, he ran with it.
He defined what the leading and lagging indicators are, for each role on his team.
He defined how people should approach and operate in meetings.
He defined what the values of the team should be.
He defined what communication and feedback should look like.
In short, he defined what great looks like for himself and his team.
But he didn’t do it in a vacuum. The team was a part of the process, helping to define everything above alongside him.
And because of this, he…
built trust with the team
got buy-in across the board
received praise from his head of HR and his boss
gave himself and his team a foundation to operate from
A couple weeks ago I was coaching the CEO of a Y-Combinator backed AI startup. He fits in the latter group, and was hesitant to run with building a standards document for his team to operate from. Despite my encouragement, he wanted to press pause on the idea.
That is…until he was in a 1on1 meeting just a few days later.
He was giving candid feedback to an employee, which is another area he and I had been working on together. And to his surprise, his employee said…
“I’m glad we had this conversation, because I didn’t know what the expectation was before this.”
And that’s when the light bulb flipped on. “Maybe Adam isn’t so full of sh*t after all.” At least, that’s what I imagine him thinking.
He decided to run with the idea, and built a standards doc with the help of his team. They loved it. And they contributed a lot of the core ideas within it.
Now the expectations for the team are crystal clear, and the team has the freedom to simply execute in their role within the context of the standards that had been set. It’s a doc that will continue to grow and evolve alongside the team.
That? That’s real autonomy.
If there’s one thing you take from this, have it be this:
Most people prefer complete clarity over complete autonomy.
Because there is nothing worse than failing to meet a standard that you didn’t know existed. It’s tragic when someone gets let go, or gets put on a performance improvement plan, when they didn’t know they weren’t meeting an ambiguous standard in the first place.
The reality of culture is that it derives from the standards we set and the norms that we allow.
If you want to build a great culture, set a high bar and give people the autonomy to meet that bar.
✌️ and ❤️,
Certified High Performance Coach™
👉 Forward Coaching