Some employees are great at taking direction. They're team players, eager to check in and update their managers on their progress, struggles, and accomplishments.
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Occasionally, however, you'll encounter an employee who is a bit more independent. These employees want space to develop and experiment on their own. Many leaders find these individuals difficult to manage.
Some sources refer to such independent employees as "workplace rebels." These rebels feel confined when faced with inflexibly strict workplace processes. They resist control, tradition, and authority.
If this sounds like a nightmare scenario to you, you should know that workplace rebels can actually prove to be valuable assets to your organization. They tend to be confident, innovative, and creative – all great qualities for an employee to have.
The problem is, many managers feel they are put in impossible positions when it comes to workplace rebels. How do you manage an employee who detests being managed? Managers need to do their jobs, and independent though these employees are, they need supervision and support in their roles just like any other employee.
Below, we'll cover five ways to adapt your performance management system for independent employees:
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1. Make Efforts to Accommodate Their Independence
First things first: Embrace your workplace rebels and work with their desire for independence. Don't try to control them or change their nature, as this approach will backfire.
Substantial research has highlighted the benefits of giving employees autonomy. Employees from flexible companies are 10-20 times more likely to outperform employees from rigid, traditional companies. Flexible companies can also reduce stress levels, improve employee decision-making abilities, and enhance intrinsic motivation.
If you're looking for ways to accommodate employee independence, you can start by letting employees decide their own SMART objectives. This will give them ownership over their roles and make them more determined to succeed. As a manager, you always need to be there to ensure employee goals align with company objectives, but allowing this freedom will do a lot to satisfy an independent employee.
Allow workplace rebels to try different approaches to existing problems and suggest alterations to given workplace processes. Resist micromanaging them or hovering when they work. Such practices will breed resentment, and your workplace rebels certainly won't perform at their best if you engage in them.
2. Be Clear, Concise, and Deliberate Regarding Expectations and Objectives
As mentioned previously, the setting of SMART objectives is critical. When employee and manager are on the same page regarding goals – and regarding how progress toward those goals will be measured – everyone knows what the employee is working toward. As long as employees are clear on their objectives and are making steady progress, it is worth taking a step back and allowing independent employees to work in whatever way suits them.
When you're setting expectations, make it clear when employees need to check in, what hours they need to work, and whether or not they have telecommuting options. If employees fail to meet you in the middle, it might be that they aren't a good fit for your company.
3. Let Them Know That if Performance Slips, You'll Need to Step Up Your Management Game
Encouraging and accommodating independent employees doesn't mean taking your eye off the ball. You still need your employees to perform well. You need them to hold up their end of the bargain, and employees need to know that if their standards of performance begin to plummet, you will have to step in and help. This will require more strict and guided management, and this is something your employees need to accept and understand.
Autonomy should be granted to your workforce, but if individuals demonstrate that they don't have the right drive and characteristics to truly thrive in a flexible environment, you'll need to adjust your approach.
4. Make It Clear You Still Expect Honest and Regular Communication
Many companies are moving in the direction of replacing annual appraisals with regular monthly performance discussions. This approach is much more suitable for managers of independent employees because frequent check-ins will help them stay in the loop when it comes to employee activities and issues.
When managing workplace rebels, make it clear that performance discussions are not optional. They are crucial components of workplace autonomy, and the content of these discussions needs to be transparent and meaningful. Similarly, managers should be on hand to offer feedback and assistance at all times, whenever an employee should require it.
5. Even Workplace Rebels Should Be Reminded That They Are Part of a Team
Independent employees should be accepted as the creative, ambitious individuals they are – but no one is an island. For a company to function effectively, everyone needs to work as part of a team. Even if workplace rebels prefer working alone, they need to be open to their teams, willing to communicate, to participate in group meetings, and to help their coworkers when required.
By following these tips when dealing with independent employees, managers will save themselves a lot of stress while keeping their workforces engaged and motivated. All employees are different, and everyone has a preferred manner of working. Knowing this and adjusting to accommodate such employees' needs is what distinguishes a good manager from a great leader.
Stuart Hearn is CEO and founder of Clear Review.