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This Harvard Survey Reveals What Most People Miss About Leadership

What’s the most important thing a leader can do for their team? Explain to them what the business wants to achieve and why

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BY Allen Lau - 09 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A recent survey conducted by The Harvard Business Review reveals that autonomy at work (not micromanagement) is the key to employee satisfaction and organizational achievement.

They describe this concept as "rebelling" or giving employees the freedom to "deviate from organizational norms, others' actions, or common expectations, to the benefit of the organization."

This has been a core value at my company, Wattpad, since we launched a decade ago. We describe this frame of mind as being a trailblazer. Trailblazers challenge themselves and others to think big and think differently. They are not afraid to lead, or to try something new.

This all sounds good on paper, but structure, vision, and process also need to be in place to run an effective organization. So, the question becomes: how do you create a workplace culture that produces results while providing staff with the freedom to do things their way?

How to Lead a Trailblazing Team: Focus on Outcomes

Autonomy for your employees depends on clearly defining your company vision while grounding every project in logical outcomes. Issues arise when people get caught up in their output (how much work they're producing), without a defined outcome (what it is you need to be produced).

"Am I working on the right thing?" Is a hard question to answer without a clear outcome, here's an example:

A CEO asks for a data report on referral traffic from Facebook (output), but what they're really looking for is information on the top social media sites driving referral traffic to their website (outcome).

In this case, the CEO will receive what they asked for, but the outcome they truly wanted will be missing. This ambiguity is what leads to missed quotas, internal frustration, and communication breakdowns. By clearly communicating expected outcomes at the beginning of a project, you keep people engaged by rooting their choices in strategic objectives.

Why Outcomes Empower Your Team

When you hire the right people, share the outcomes you wish to achieve and why, you can trust them to figure out the how. Here's an interesting example from the same Harvard article:

The Ritz-Carlton allows staff members to spend up to $2,000 to address any customer complaint in the way they deem best. The hotel believes that a business is most successful when employees have well-defined standards, understand the reasoning behind them, and are given autonomy in carrying them out.

The report states that The Ritz-Carlton depends on 3,000 standards developed over the years to ensure a consistent customer experience at all its hotels. With those many standards in place, it's easy for an employee to make decisions rooted in a clear outcome - exceptional customer experience.

When you work on or assign a task, clearly define your outcome to get the best results from your team. At Wattpad, we depend on seven core values to help root decisions within our strategy. These are the values that make us who we are, and make it enjoyable for us to come to work every day. They are the attributes that we strive to embody and they keep us all on the same page.

Clearly explain your vision and expected outcomes to inspire your staff to achieve great things. With clear outcomes, they'll gain the confidence to get the right work done and in the process, you'll achieve and grow together.