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Accountability vs. Autonomy: Finding the Right Workplace Balance

Posted on Categories Culture/Employee Engagement, Savage ThinkingTags

Companies everywhere are asking the same question: How do we foster a company culture that is profitable, purposeful and a pleasure to work in? There seems to be a lot of conflicting advice about what makes an office most effective, but the key is striking the right balance between accountability and autonomy, thinking purposefully and getting things done.

According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 81% of the nation‰’s workforce is disconnected and dissatisfied with their jobs. More than four-fifths of America‰’s businesses need to take a hard look at whether they‰’re striking the right workplace balance.

Accountability vs. autonomy in the workplace

There is a strong argument to be made for giving employees autonomy in the workplace. Demonstrating trust in them, giving them power over what work they do and how – these actions have been proven to make workers more effective and more satisfied at work.

But if the pendulum swings too far toward autonomy, employees begin to disconnect from larger company goals and values, behaving in ways that may or may not support the business‰’ purpose. Companies need to bring in a certain level of accountability for exhibiting corporate values and delivering on company purpose day to day.

Herb Kelleher, founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, might have phrased the balance best when he said, ‰”We are committed to providing our employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged. Above all, employees will be provided the same concern, respect and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest customer.‰”

Purposeful, big-picture thinking vs. getting things done

A company filled with worker drones who exist only to get product out the door will be rudderless, and the environment is less than satisfying for the employees. People want to have a sense of the larger purpose their work is going to serve. At the same time, companies must produce work of a quality and quantity that makes them profitable in order to be sustainable. So how do we strike the balance?

In The Strategy-Focused Organization, Robert Kaplan and David Norton assert that ‰”A mere 7% of employees today fully understand their company‰’s business strategies and what‰’s expected of them in order to help achieve company goals.‰” Only 7% know why they‰’re doing what they‰’re doing? It‰’s no wonder so many employees are disconnected from their work.

More and more, job searchers and employees are looking for a sense of purpose in their work. Instead of handing out to-do lists, share with employees how their day-to-day actions support the larger purpose of the company.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery put it, ‰”If you want to build a ship, don‰’t drum up people to collect wood and don‰’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.‰”

Has your company found the right balance? The Savage team helps companies uncover and deliver on their purpose, building workplaces that are united toward a common goal through Savage Thinking. If you want to hear more, contact Robin Tooms at or 713.522.1555.

Avatar photoAs President at Savage Brands, Bethany is known for forging powerful connections – connecting people to people and connecting companies with the fresh ideas that make their brands purposeful. In her recent book, "Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line and Build Your Brand on Purpose," Bethany conveys to business leaders the importance of leading with purpose.


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