Would you ever give staff 100 per cent autonomy?

Much has been written about the “extremely odd” and “terrifying workplace culture” at Netflix, like the dispassionate and public sackings (everyone, for example, is told why their peers have been fired) and the requirement to expose and explain every failure no matter how humiliating. Which can understandably make for a challenging work environment.

But for every practice with the potential to induce a cardiac arrest in human resources personnel, there’s another with the potential to induce inspiration and serious job satisfaction.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.Credit:Bloomberg

As outlined in No Rules Rules, the new book by Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings and Professor Erin Meyer, the firm provides employees with the kind of freedom and latitude rarely found in workplaces. Here are three of the most prominent (and audacious) examples.

Let’s start with this: “Remove travel and expense approvals.” That’s enough to give any business owner an incurable case of insomnia but, as the authors note, it doesn’t absolve staff of accountability. They may still be called someday to justify how their expenses were in the company’s best interest. In the meantime, the laborious task of form filling and the wearisome process of waiting for an outcome are eliminated. Efficiency ensues. Speed and productivity, too.


Here’s the second: “Remove vacation policy.” This stems from a belief that what matters is the work an employee produces; not the hours spent doing it. Staff are permitted to take time off for as long as they want whenever they want without permission. Of course, the manager provides context on what’s appropriate to ensure responsible decisions are taken, but an initial trial became permanent the moment evidence showed unprecedented success at attracting and retaining talented staff.

The third eyebrow-raiser is this: “No decision-making approvals needed.” That means even if the boss dislikes an idea and thinks it’s destined to fail, the employee can still go ahead with it. It’s this type of liberty to which much of the company’s stellar growth and innovation is attributed. And when a contract for an idea is eventually signed, the signatory isn’t a senior executive but the person who initiated and pioneered the idea. The ultimate reflection of ownership and responsibility.

The latest academic research, published in the highly respected Journal of Vocational Behaviour, validates the philosophy in place at Netflix.

The research team, led by scholars at Flinders University and Central Queensland University, surveyed more than 500 people on work placements, and found the presence of sufficient autonomy provided them with the psychological boost they required to “satisfy their fundamental human needs and thus to thrive”.

“Thriving” is the empirical term used to describe employees who feel they’re learning and improving, who look forward to each day at work as a place where they’re important and energetic. And, as demonstrated now in the researchers’ findings, it is propelled by the granting of autonomy which can serve as “such a powerful motivational force … that its influence could persist whether or not an employee is well mentored” by their manager.

For sure there’s risk involved. The kind of autonomy advocated by Mr Hastings and Professor Meyer is more akin to emancipation but definitely not immunity. A small proportion of people will inevitably “cheat the system. When this happens, don’t overreact and create more rules. Just deal with the individual situation and move forward.”

A good place to begin is with “dumb rules” that prevent your team from “using their brains”.

That obviously refers to the abolition of dumb rules; not their imposition. The latter is clearly the antithesis of sound business leadership. The antithesis of leadership full stop.

Follow James Adonis on Twitter.

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Source: Thanks smh.com