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Autonomy and Skill Variety

Autonomy and Skill Variety
Another way to make your goals more meaningful is to allow for a significant degree of autonomy in how people go about accomplishing these goals. And introduce skill variety into a particular task description. By skill variety, I mean giving people an opportunity to use and learn a variety of skills. So I’m going to show you a video from a famous film, I Love Lucy, and as you watch this video think about two questions. One, is Lucy able to use and learn the value of skills? And secondly, do you think the change shows a significant degree of autonomy in terms of how to perform this particular task. Take a look.
It is very difficult to give affirmative answers to any of these questions in Lucy’s case. But let’s now make it more realistic and more applicable. Let’s take a look at the assembly line of a major automotive manufacture. Let’s think about the same 2 questions. Do you think the workers able to use and learn a variety of skills? And secondly, evaluate the degree of job autonomy they have in their jobs.
As you reflect on Ford’s assembly line, typically most workers don’t have a significant degree of job autonomy. The assembly line keeps moving and you just have to keep up. A lot of the processes and procedures are heavily standardized. So there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room for you to experiment with new things. On the floor in front of you you see a series of markers that tell you by the time the cart reaches this marker. We have to be 50 or 75% done. There is not a lot of skill variety, either.
In most of these traditional assembly line environments, workers typically have one or two roles and so you’re significantly limited in the number of skills you can apply and learn as part of this job. Now here is what companies are beginning to experiment with, they’re changing assembly lines from linear to circular arrangement and introduce extensive job rotations. And you can see that immediately introduces more skill variety. Wherein employees can rotate from one station to another. They can learn side by side with and from their colleagues. By the way, as a general heuristic, we typically advise people to rotate their employees from one role to another every three years.
If a particular person is stuck in the same role for longer than three years, that typically correlates with lower levels of engagement and motivation. Another advantage of a circular assembly line, by the way, is that you can see the final product as it comes to fruition. It’s your Lego figure, that you can see in front of you as you and your peers are building it up. In traditional linear assembly lines, seeing the final product for most of the employees, is a bit more difficult. And, finally, think also about increasing autonomy for people in their jobs. Now, admittedly, it’s harder to do it in assembly line environment.
But even there, companies are introducing the ‘stop’ buttons, wherein any employee on the assembly line can stop the assembly line by pressing that button. Now admittedly it’s a very expensive process to stop the assembly line, and in reality, very few employees ever press that button, but psychologically, it gives them a greater sense of control and autonomy in their jobs. And leads to higher levels of meaning and satisfaction. Google is known for giving drastic levels of autonomy to its engineers. 20% of time any engineer can spend on any task, any project they want.
And in addition to driving high levels of engagement and satisfaction and meaning in their jobs, That particular practice also stimulates high levels of innovation and creativity within the company. Some of the products that Google is particularly known for, such as Orchid in the past, or GMail or even Google News came out of this 20% autonomous time. So, I would like for us to pause here and understand that we have two additional tactics to make your goals and tasks more meaningful. And now just to think about introducing skill variety for your employees, for your teammates. Think of enabling them to use and learn a variety of skills on the job. And also give them a better sense of control.
Give them a better sense of autonomy as they attain their goals.
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