Not too long ago, giants like Google, Airbnb, Uber and Facebook started out with a few developers piecing together code from their garage-turned-office. Now they're defining the way we live our lives. It seems a new business-building model -- one some are deeming a Fourth Industrial Revolution -- has risen, characterized by intense technological innovation and whirlwind growth. This has prompted many businesses to ask the question: "How are these new companies growing exponentially when we aren’t?"
The core notion is simple: Rather than increasing human capital or physical assets, the most successful 21st-century companies leverage information and technology to achieve rapid expansion in pursuit of a "Massive Transformational Purpose" (MTP). In doing so, they're able to scale their business strategies, culture, organizational frameworks and purpose at the same rate as the technology, i.e. one that follows an exponential curve.
Of the 11 fundamental factors that drive exponential growth, one of them is Autonomy.
AutonomyBusinesses run on people, and Exponential Organisations need to run faster than others. The pressure on getting people to continually work better in shorter times is not feasible in typical businesses - which is where the massive benefits of Autonomy come in.
There is the old model of managing employees, with hierarchical structures and multiple layers of management, where information slowly cascades down from the senior management. Direction is given, data is collected, and slowly goes back up the chain. The business loses a lot of the value in the intermediary levels. It also just takes a long time, and we just don't have that level of time today. Autonomy allows businesses to distribute authority levels right down to the edges as much as possible.
At Zappos, for example, the employees have the obligation and the mandate to do whatever it takes to get the customer happy. They're not measured by how long or little they spent on the phone with a customer, it's how happy the customer is at the end of the call (The record is 15 hours that somebody spent on the phone!). The classic example is when the Zappos employee ordered the pizza when the customer called up, which was totally outside their scope of actually selling shoes.
Another brilliant example is the Ritz-Carlton, where team members are given a budget that they can spend on a customer, no questions asked. The famous example of the stuffed giraffe’s extended holiday at the Ritz has been told many times, but it’s an excellent example of what happens when team members are given the opportunity to step up.
The main reason that autonomy is important is that it increases the agility of the organisation, there's much more accountability at the customer face. There's much faster reaction reaction times, and shortened learning times for the organisation as a whole. Perhaps the single biggest benefit is the better morale, because the team and the staff feels so much more empowered than in a traditional organisation, where they’d need to get approval every single time they want to do something.