Combining performance and freedom

Translated from French. Article from Caroline Hardy, published February 25th, 2019 on www.revuegestion.ca. Click here for the original French version.

 

How far does freedom in management extend? As a human, manager and leader, do you give your teams enough freedom? And for yourself? Do you think about it every day? What are the potential impacts of greater organizational freedom for your business and for society in general?

 

Intervening and Influencing: a definition of freedom

According to economist and philosopher Amartya Sen (1998 Nobel Prize winner), freedom is – among other things – the ability to intervene and influence; a concept he calls “capabilities” (Sen, 2000). Intervening and influencing, two verbs, two behaviors that seem ancient given how basic they are. Yet in 2019, they are also extremely modern and applicable to organizations that evolve in a complex system where everything is intertwined.

The opportunities to make choices in relation to our responsibilities, as well as our aspirations and desires, are potential sources of inspiration in the workforce. There are a variety of impacts on performance related to freedom that we can observe on a daily basis: for example, greater decision-making capacity, increased curiosity about our environment, leading to greater creativity, and increased organizational mobilization. But how do we provide greater freedom in our organization? What elements can allow your teams and employees to influence and intervene?

Here are a few, from the simplest to the most complex, that may help you to initiate organizational dialogue: work hours and places, organizing work, company culture, priority management, employee selection, delivery dates, budget allocation, setting financial margins, organizational strategy, creation of new concepts, research and innovation.

Let us consider a specific case: if employees are allowed to manage their own work schedules, or even their own workplaces, they will opt for the most convenient times of the day, being times and places (whether noisy or not, whether in the office or not) where they are most productive and most likely to create and think in accordance with their own rhythm. This self-determination can increase performance for many.

Freedom, control and performance: the paradoxes

This sense of freedom, which gives wings to many, can also overwhelm others. One of the great organizational paradoxes (Pauchant & Mitroff, 2001) remains that of control vs. freedom; in other words, the importance attached to these two concepts in the “design” of our organizations.

These questions may lead you to think differently about the elements that shape your team’s performance: is your team performing better when the leaders exact control or when they provide greater freedom of choice and action? Is there a ratio, a scale, an optimal balance?

These questions, which seem unanswerable or at least have as many answers as there are people, demonstrate the relevance of understanding who we are as humans. Choosing to give more or less freedom/control to our teams is a strategic choice for
organizations. The choice, when made consciously, allows us to understand the expected and desired behaviors.

Furthermore, this paradox of freedom and control suggests that we can choose the stance that we will take on a daily basis. Great leaders often question themselves. Take a step back. Who are we? What are the needs of the people around us? And who do we want to become? These are the reflections and introspections that lead to greater performance.

Finally, freedom is the ability to choose who we are. Choosing our level of freedom, strategically choosing whether or not our organization is more in control and centralized or innovative, and chaotic. Humans are free to influence and intervene when it comes to the freedom we afford to our teams. Leaders are free to decide how performance will be sustained.

The possibilities

What if giving greater freedom helped accelerate business performance? Is freedom synonymous with fulfillment and well-being? By offering and proposing the freedom to think, choose and act, we welcome a world of possibilities for individuals and organizations.

 

Caroline Hardy
Director of Executive Coaching and Training Programs at Proaction International