“That is my choice!”
Those four words, spoken with angry fervor, were part of a recent discussion with a senior VP of a large company. After months of dialogue with customers, employees, and industry experts his company had chosen a new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software solution. The reason for the change: disconnected, manual entry of customer information was taking a lot of time from employees without resulting in an integrated, easy to use body of information. The VP was refusing to use the new system.
“I didn’t come hear to do data entry!” He was reacting to a transition process that asked everyone to review and update their customers’ information before it was put into the new system.
My query: “What has you feel so strongly about this?”
“Someone told me about your speech to our transformation team about autonomy, and that you said everyone had to have a choice, you can’t force people to do anything. That’s right. I choose not to use the new system. I’ve earned my autonomy around here.”
My response: “It sounds like you did not hear the whole autonomy story. May I share the entire conversation we had?” He said yes.
He was referring to a conversation with the Transformation Team about three factors that create or destroy autonomy:
In any social system autonomy is naturally granted to people who are respected for choosing to make contributions that benefit the community. That self-supervising opportunity to make decisions is based in the trust of that community, not based in title or tenure. So, choice does not = autonomy. Autonomy arises at the intersection:
“Well, that sounds like you think I have to serve the community and forget about me.”
“You are a member of the community, we cannot leave you out. Two questions for you:
He said he felt at home because of their product leadership, how they improved offerings every year and how that unrelenting innovation makes them industry leaders. “I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Relative to CRM, his purpose was to spend time with customers so that they loved using the products; his concern was becoming a number-crunching bureaucrat; his circumstance was that he had hundreds of customers and didn’t have time to review all the historical data if he was to meet his targets for the year.
I asked him to imagine that the input challenge was magically met, and the new CRM system was fully functional. “Would that new integrated CRM system help ongoing innovation so that more and more customers loved using the products?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t make my problems go away.”
“Let’s see: who benefits if you had your hundreds of customers in the new system?”
That question led to a list of quite a few people. “Would you be willing to get as many of those as you can on a video call, share your dilemma and ask for help?” He did, and they helped…a lot. Those folks came together to help the VP get it all done without sacrificing time with customers. He was grateful, reinforcing his own sense of belonging, inspiring him to fully support the new system.
The “Autonomy Zone” is a place where belonging and freedom coincide. Community, contribution, and choice are inextricably related, each made stronger by the presence of the other two. “Freedom of choice” separated from contribution and community is anarchy, not autonomy. Anarchy replaces the vitality of belonging with the anguish of disconnection, damaging our own self-interests if a short term fit of selfishness.
In a connected community, everyone has a say. That does not mean everyone has a veto. Instead, we learn from what each has to say and, as a community, look for the intersections that contribute to us each and all. Some days I get the precise outcomes I want, others I don’t. However, by caring for the triple experience of community, contribution and choice I earn authentic autonomy, the kind of freedom that energizes me and others. That energy is a heckuva lot better than the short-sighted, short-term angry fervor that began this post.