“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility (freedom) to their employees will have the edge in this area.” Bill Gates
I can’t neglect (since I missed the window over the 4th) to make sure to make a point about freedom during our nation’s birthday month. And as by coincidence or actually, by what really makes a whole lot of sense, you can’t talk about what drives innovation without talking about freedom. America is a country that was built around the concept of freedom.
Despite a presidential campaign grounded on “Making America Great Again,” it is the most innovative country in the world as measured by producing goods and services that people value (as measured by GDP). It is also still a country where many desire to immigrate, and though I’m not citing fact now, I will venture to say that many of them desire to come here precisely because they will have freedom, including the freedom to innovate.
And, since I can’t resist the urge to make a slight political commentary here, a country grounded in freedom is what gives Mr. Trump the freedom to say that America needs to be great again and gives citizens the right to show their support of this by their vote. This is precisely what makes America great. Not the idea of building a wall.
And freedom is what grounds innovative organizations.
Why? Because giving people freedom leads to this cycle:
- Trust. Freedom is the way you behaviorally demonstrate to people that you trust them. When people are trusted, they feel free to:
- Experiment. A/B or split testing is something the most innovative companies do all the time. Because everything can’t be known, trying it more than one way and seeing what works better- what the customer prefers- leads to better results.
- Fail (more often than not). If I saw anything across the literature that was vital to innovation it was room to fail because it leads people to:
- Learn. As the Innovator’s Dilemma emphasizes over and over again – “The strategies and plans that managers formulate for confronting disruptive technological change, therefore, should be plans for learning and discovery rather than plans for execution.” Learning can also come from getting it right instead of failing, but often the biggest breakthroughs come through some kind of failure in the beginning.
- Grow. Growth occurs at the individual level and then collectively at the organizational level in terms of profits.
Much of the literature uses the word “autonomy” or “flexibility” for “freedom” and this autonomy, as you see in Drive couples with finding mastery and purpose in the workplace to create motivation.
So how do we create this freedom in the workplace that allows for this cycle to take place, leading to innovation?
Here are some ideas to create freedom from some of the best innovation hubs:
- 3M allows its employees to spend 15% of their time to work on their own projects Guess where post-it notes came from? Yes, from the 15%. Other innovators do likewise. Google has used a 20% standard.
- Nike experimented with a T-shirt factory in Mexico giving workers in a specific plant more freedom by letting them help set production targets, form their own teams, decide how work should be accomplished and allowed them to stop production if they thought they saw problems. Production at this plant was found to be twice as high as at another similar plant that was tightly controlled.
- Flex-time and work from home and telecommuting arrangements are becoming widespread and cater to people’s desire for freedom in how and when work gets done. Most studies show these arrangements increase productivity.
- Some companies are going as far as to eliminate setting limits on vacation or paid time off.
- Decision making is being pushed down to the individual or employee level. Managers don’t make the decisions, the ones closest to the work have the freedom to do so.
How do you allow for freedom in the workplace? What results have you seen?
What scares you about giving people freedom in the workplace? Why?