The issue with freedom is that it doesn’t - and shouldn’t - come for free. So, if we want to negotiate more freedom from our boss then first we must consider what freedom brings and what we are willing to pay for it (see: “What price must we pay for our freedom?”). Ultimately, we will ask for freedom by making a set of promises, including the willingness to take responsibility for the outcome.
Here we lay out a potential way forward, making the process less daunting to pursue and more appealing to those in management above us.
- Before you start, consider that all you need is an agreement to trial a new way of working. You don’t need the endorsement of a permanent change at this point.
- Be clear on what you want. Explain what changes you would like to make to achieve more freedom. Whether it is where, how or what you work on, you will need to be clear about what you are suggesting. And it may be easier to take only one step at a time.
- Be aware, most bosses want more freedom too but they probably exist within a culture that makes it difficult. As such, prime motivators to reject your request will include: if they can’t have it then why should you; they don’t want to end up carrying the responsibility if it goes wrong; and, if they say yes, what’s to stop everyone else asking.
- Do your research. You are not asking for something untested. Your boss may ask for examples of where this has been successfully demonstrated elsewhere. Be prepared to handle cynicism by being willing to share your own uncertainties (see: "How do you deal with cynicism?”). Show empathy to their concerns and demonstrate you have thought about any potential pitfalls rather than imply you are ignorant to the challenge ahead.
- Make the case. Explain why change is necessary despite the difficulty. Don’t set out to convince them, give them the information you feel is sufficient to make this worth pursuing.
- Acknowledge that you are asking to be freed from the normal requirements for control and consistency; you understand this may cause some issues for your boss, such as extra work or some negotiating on their side. Reassure them that their faith will be rewarded and the results worth the effort.
- Confirm you are not asking for a total exemption from the norm; you recognise there may be standard forms and procedures that can’t be avoided and that you will honour those as before.
- Promise specific results. Don’t make it all about issues such as morale and engagement; whilst invaluable, they are not concrete enough for this conversation. Front and centre should be concerns of theirs that are more outwardly facing and easier for them to present elsewhere - customer experience or speed of delivery, for example.
- Promise to keep your boss regularly informed.
- Affirm that you will take responsibility if things don’t go as you hope they will.
Remember, you just need your boss to let you trial your ideas, you don’t need to convince them of a whole new organisational worldview. Have faith in your own conviction for change and feel applauded for your courage to present such a worthwhile exercise. Best of luck!
‘Willingness to claim our autonomy and commit ourselves to making the organization work well, with or without the sponsorship of those above us. This requires a belief that my safety and my freedom are in my own hands. No easy task—therefore the adventure."