November 16, 2011

Supporting individual autonomy in organizational change

In organizational change it is wise to recognize that a basic need we all share with one another is the need for autonomy. We all prefer to choose for ourselves as much as possible what we initiate and we want to control as much as possible what we do and don't. When our need for autonomy is satisfied this can contribute importantly to the degree to which we are engaged in what we do, how well we learn, how creative we are, how well we adjust and even how mentally healthy we are.

How managers communicate in organization change processes is likely to affect the level of autonomy employees experience. Needless to say, how much autonomy we can experience will always be limited because each of us needs to adapt to our environments and to fulfill certain external demands. In the case of deliberate organizational change it may be necessary to demand certain things and prohibit certain other things and this is not an inherently bad thing.

What is important is to avoid threatening employees need for autonomy any more than strictly necessary. Here are some suggestions. In general the following factors support the level of autonomy people experience: providing and emphasizing choice whenever possible, allowing people as much as possible to follow their unique approach and their own pave, encouraging self-initiative and experimentation, and providing a meaningful rationale for any suggestions or requests. Factors which generally thwart people's  perception of autonomy (and are therefore best avoided) are: emphasizing different types of controls such as tangible rewards, deadlines, punishments, evaluations, awards, grades, and surveillance, using controlling language and imposing goals.

Change will be more acceptable when people involved on all levels notice that their need for autonomy is respected.

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