Give people autonomy – Great Leadership Idea No 31

by | 10 Jun 2011 | Leadership Ideas


Successful leaders offer substantial autonomy to members of the team and to parts of the business. Individuals are empowered, and respond to this; decision-making is de-centralised, bringing more opinion and directly relevant experience into the process and, ideally, bringing decision-making closer to the customer. Whole units can be allowed to take control of their own destiny while remaining ‘part of the family.’

‘Bring leadership closer to the customer’

Azim Premji is still chairman of the global information technology services company, Wipro, based in Bangalore, India. He took over the company in 1966 at the age of 21, following the death of his father, at a time when the company’s product range was based largely on the cooking oils and fats on which his father had founded the business.

In the 1980s, Premji diversified the company into toiletries and lighting products and then into computer manufacture and software services. Wipro is now a global IT services provider.

In an interview with Ravi Aron, Professor at Wharton University of Pennsylvania, Premji says this:

“The most important thing you must appreciate is that, with the reorganization, we tried to bring Wipro’s leadership closer to the customer. In the process, we tried to de-layer the organization and empower our business leaders with a much higher degree of P&L and growth responsibility. That is why we removed an entire layer which was there previously. Our executives are seasoned enough in their jobs and they have performed long enough in their roles to be confident that they can deliver results through the new structure.”

Premji created a new ‘vertical’ structure that organised the company into units such as Telecom Service Providers and Enterprise Solutions.

“Each vertical is like a self-contained business . . .  Though they work under a common structure, with resources such as Finance, HR, Quality and Marketing, each vertical has people who represent these functions. So, in effect, each vertical is like a separate company . . . It all goes back to leadership. It speeds things up and gets decisions made faster.

“It empowers people more, and it allows them to further empower those who report to them, because their jobs have suddenly become much more responsible . . . I hope the reorganization will make Wipro more agile, because it’s one thing to design a new organizational structure, and quite another to execute well. We believe that the new structure will help us execute our strategy well.”

Letting people meet objectives in their own way

Giving colleagues a high degree of autonomy – allowing them to deliver results in their own way against the overall objectives – brings decision-making close to the consumer and makes an organisation faster and more agile.

Decentralised decision-making allows many opinions and a wide range of experience to influence the organisation’s decisions—which also reduces risk.

Give People Autonomy  is further explored in 100 Great Leadership Ideas


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