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What price must people pay for workplace freedom?

If we want freedom we must purchase it with accountability, responsibility, insecurity, vulnerability and, ultimately, a promise. It doesn’t come for free. Which is one reason why not everybody wants it (see: "What holds people back from choosing freedom when they're offered it?").


We must accept more accountability. Our bosses have always shouldered accountability - we get paid to perform a task, not to shoulder the burden if something goes wrong. We can’t have it both ways; if we want freedom, we must be willing to be accountable for whatever comes next.


We must accept that we alone are responsible for the world we want to create. Choosing freedom means we must see our everyday choices as building or destroying that world. We can no longer wait for someone else to do it for us or simply jump to blaming those we believe to be failing.


We must forgo some of the security and protection we receive. For example, freedom as an entrepreneur means stepping outside the safety of things such as a salary, holiday pay, benefits etc. We know that’s the price we pay for the adventure. If we are to be set free within an organisation then we too must expect to lose a reasonable degree of protection.


We must accept the risk that others will take advantage of our willingness to stop adhering to cultural norms. If we decide to exercise freedom by stepping out we risk those around us, who choose to continue such behaviour, will use this against us.

A Promise

To ask for freedom is to request the right to demonstrate we are committed because we care about the people and the purpose, not because we need to be controlled. This is very different from the norm, where our loyalty is purchased. But this commitment must come in the form of a promise, with a willingness to be measured on that basis. Vitally, this promise must be freely offered. Intangibly, this means a promise to honour the purpose, commit to the relationships, to offer our authenticity and honesty etc. But we must also offer something tangible: a set of outcomes, results or behavioural standards. We cannot ask for freedom and not expect to deliver something real in return.

Importantly, however, this commitment and a discussion around what our promise looks like is primarily with the team, not the manager.  Without the manager being the primary recipient, the threat of punishment doesn't hang over these promises. Which stops them becoming a transaction and retains their integrity as freely offered, not freely sold.

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  1. John Featherby

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