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The Compelling Case for Giving Employees More Freedom

Allowing employees more room to roam makes them happier and more productive. Here's how it worked for one 10,000-person company.
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There is mounting evidence that suggests employees who exercise autonomy regularly at work are happier and more productive. The right workers in the right role can transform an entire department--maybe even an entire organization--but only if their ability to act on their intuition and creativity is unleashed.

I've seen a great example of this "Autonomy Principle" in action in the rapidly growing startup Bellhops (incubated at Lamp Post Group where I am a Managing Partner), which contracts local college students for small-scale moving help on demand.

The company has grown from 2,000 to 10,000 employees in just one year by establishing an autonomous workforce. And it's this autonomy that Bellhops cites as the source of its impeccable customer service.

Bellhops hires City Managers from major colleges and universities throughout the country and then contracts directly with recruited students, or "Bellhops," to execute small residential moving jobs in their city. All the Bellhops have direct access to a company-wide job board and can "grab" jobs either as the Captain or Wing-man. The Captain manages and coordinates the move with the customer and gets paid a higher wage.

Bellhops are able to execute moves year-round and have complete autonomy over their schedule, who they work with, and how much money they make.

According to co-founder, Cameron Doody, "People don't just want a job anymore; they want a fulfilling job," he says. "Fulfillment at work comes with the freedom to make decisions and own your position.  Employee empowerment breeds elevated customer service, because everyone treats their job like it's their own company."

Here are five principles from the Bellhops that you can borrow to create more autonomy in your workplace.

Give parameters, then offer choices.

Bellhops gives employees the freedom to set their own schedule and level of responsibility. They don't sign up for a move they don't want to do. That freedom encourages the Bellhops to treat each job as an opportunity to make a great impression and to give each customer a more devoted level of service.

Reward the grinders.

If you're still relying on resumes to pick quality candidates, you are losing the recruiting wars. That method is no longer sufficient for finding and hiring the best people.

Bellhops allows customers to provide ratings for each Bellhop with whom they work--think Yelp meets Monster.com. The Bellhops that have the most hustle and deliver the best service will, of course, be rewarded with higher ratings.

These customer feedback ratings will be aggregated and released to each Bellhop upon graduating from their respective college. It's a living resume that will carry much more weight than the paper kind. If you want amazing ratings, you have to deliver amazing service.

Relinquish the 9-5.

People are all different. Some do their best work in the early morning. Some prefer to grind it out on the weekends or in the wee small hours of the morning. Having a choice in deciding when you will do your best work is extremely empowering.

Many managers still insist on the 9-5 for one reason only--control. They lack the trust to relinquish control over employees' schedules.  If you mandate desk time between 9 and 5 in order to see your employees working, may I suggest that you 1) haven't hired the right people, or 2) might have some controlling tendencies.

Find a way to unify the culture.

If you do decide to forego the typical work day, you'll have to find other ways to create a cohesive company culture. Letting employees be in control of their work schedules will lead to greater autonomy, but it could also lead to isolated employees.

Bellhops has navigated this dilemma by creating company rituals that bond all employees--even across states.

They all wear the same neon green headbands, their internal Bellhop newsletter screams collegiate culture, and they have weekly Bellhop contests for prizes like 100lbs of Ramen Noodles (which is absurd), skydiving vouchers, and puppies. Each City Manager has weekly call-ins with their Regional Director to make sure company values and operations are being clearly communicated to all 10,000 Bellhops in 117 cities in 41 states.

Instill values through training.

Don't just expect your company vision--as great as it might be--to be sufficient in motivating employees.

What are your values and why should it matter to them? Employees want to feel aligned with your company and you do that by making your operating values very apparent. Don't make them guess at your expectations. Be very clear about what you value--and then make sure you're living it!

You can watch the Bellhops training videos--also known as Bellhops Academy--and get an insider's peek into the level of customer care that they require. It's all about making a personal connection.

When you empower your employees to make a genuine impression on customers and forge strong bonds, you are also empowering them to deliver a greater level of customer service, all while taking greater satisfaction in their work. When employees win their customers do, too.

What are some ways you've found to empower autonomy in your employees?




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