Start-Up Founders Listen Up! Freedom at Work is the Key to Success

With the rapid establishment of a start-up ecosystem in the country and with young entrepreneurs driving this movement with passion, dedication and fresh ideas, freedom at work has become an important (if not mandatory) factor to set up the right working environment for increased productivity.
While there are many things that seem and are important when setting up the foundation for your business, most entrepreneurs and founding teams fail to pay the right kind of attention to the ‘work culture’ that is to come. From a long-term perspective (as ambitions of scaling up and larger organisational goals come into play): employee satisfaction, finding the right talent/fit become crucial elements closely tied to work culture and the success of your company.
Hence, whether it crosses your mind or not, work culture is important. And equally important is the freedom at work which impacts culture immensely.
This is why, in this post, I would like to focus on this critical aspect of a start-up: freedom at work.

So what exactly is “freedom at work”?

  • Working at a place that empowers you and gives you the right to voice your opinion in front of your peers, team and the management.
  • A place where you are the CEO of your role. You take actionable authority over your tasks.
  • Having sufficient authority to deliver your responsibilities without any significant obstacles.
  • A place where you are free to take initiatives, execute and measure the real time effectiveness of your ideas.
  • A place which gives you complete flexibility and opportunity to maintain a work life balance.
  • Also, complete flexibility at work in terms of reporting timings, leaves, etc.
  • A working environment that provides an opportunity to discuss things with your CEO directly. Just imagine the knowledge that you take away from the think-tank of the organization.
  • A work culture which pushes you to think harder & cover a wide spectrum of roles and ideas that are not just limited to your specific job role or designation.

In my many years of experience as an HR (Human Resources) professional, I have observed that if an employee has not been vested with authority, responsibility and ample freedom at work then he/she feels like a soldier who has been put in the battlefield, to fight a war, without any weapons to win. 

Why is this freedom at work so important?

  • With this freedom, you are wholly and solely responsible for your work which teaches you to take ownership completely.
  • You have the space to implement/execute your ideas and plans which gives you a virtual taste of being an entrepreneur.
  • Setting up a process and adhering to it versus adhering to processes already set up for you (bottom-up rather than top-down) is more challenging and can ensure better career growth and a steeper learning curve.
Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught? (Yes and here’s what it takes)

Still not convinced? Here are some more advantages!

  • You learn fast: This is because you are sure to come across work which you may not have done or been required to do, typically, or have minimal conceptual understanding of. However, as a result of seamless boundaries at work, you are suddenly working with limited supervision and have to stretch your mind to understand various new concepts on your own, from your peers or friends, and learn on the job. In addition to this, turnaround time is usually less and hard deadlines keep you on your toes and enable you to grow.
  • Freedom helps you gauge your decision-making ability:  Since you now identify problems, design solutions and execute them, you will also be able to check whether or not objectives are being met. Your own decision-making abilities are put to test rather than your dependencies and reliance on others.
  • Your ability to multitask is enhanced: It’s a barren land and you have to now take care of your work, end to end. Sometimes you don’t even have the luxury of prioritizing your tasks, sequentially. Irrespective of the size of the organization, one is always dependent on other individuals or teams. For example, the dependency of sales on marketing strategies to meet their objectives, or that of the marketing function on TG research.
  • Despite being under pressure, you are not stressed out: Because you are working on ‘n’ number of things at the same time, all the time! However, the feeling of doing something that you are passionate about, with more responsibility and less intrusive supervision, keeps stress at bay. You have to prove something to yourself more than anyone else in the organization and your hunger drives you to excel at work.
  • It helps you to deal with uncertainty better: In start-ups or mid-size firms, it is difficult to operate with a stable plan as processes are not set, hiring is ongoing and continuous, and strategies are yet to be defined. So, the nature of work is bound to be uncertain. In the Hindi language, we say, roz paani peeney ke liye, roz kunwa khodna padta hai!” Meaning, pretty much, that every day is a surprise for you!

Let me take you through an example of how freedom at work may be reflected…

Company A is in the business of selling FMCG products online and has 350 employees. Mr. X is hired as the HR Manager. Mr. X observes a flaw in the recruitment process and decides to revise it. He makes a flowchart, sits with the founder or CEO, gets approval, rolls it out and takes on the continuous responsibility of ensuring that every hiring manager in the organization adheres to it.

On the flip-side…

Company B is a large pharmaceutical company, with multiple offline branches or offices, consisting of 10,000 employees and Mr. Y is hired as the HR manager. Mr. Y observes a flaw in the recruitment process and decides to revise it. He makes a flowchart and sits with his manager. The manager is happy about the initiative, sends his recommendation to the regional manager who in turn sends it to the AVP who passes it to the VP. The VP reviews it, sends it to the SVP and then the EVP (it goes on and on until it reaches the departmental head).
Evidently, the communication from the bottom to top and then again from top to bottom takes an inordinate amount of time. Even after all this bureaucratic movement, there is the possibility that no change, or barely any change, will take place in the system.
In highlighting both these scenarios, I don’t intend to say that company B’s method of working is wrong and company A’s is right. It’s just that certain situations and set ups demand to follow a more complex line of movement because the impact of NOT doing so may have a large affect on a large number of employees. Also, in many cases, these processes may have worked for the company for several years or even generations and might be difficult to change.
By citing these examples, I am only trying to convey that freedom at work helps you see results and measure effectiveness quickly. Hence, from an individual perspective, you tend to grow faster in a more dynamic environment.

I also feel compelled to explain what freedom at work does not mean:

  • What it is: Freedom at work is being the CEO of your role.
  • What it is not: It doesn’t mean that you become laid back and ignore the factor of due diligence.
  • What it is: It’s a place where you have the right to voice your opinion to the leadership teams.
  • What it is not: It does not mean that you can be disrespectful while voicing your opinion – always observe tact.
  • What it is not: It does not mean that you look to dominate with your decisions and bulldoze them through others.
  • What it is not: It does not mean that you keep repeating the same mistakes and deal with the consequences casually.
  • What it is: It’s is a place where you are free to take initiatives, execute and measure real time effectiveness of an initiative.
  • What it is not: Just taking initiatives and not being bothered about execution. Remember, there is a huge difference between ideation & execution. Many people fail to execute/implement a great idea.
  • What it is: A place where you feel you have sufficient authority to deliver your responsibilities without significant obstacles.
  • What it is not: A place where you misuse your authority in the name of delivering your responsibilities.
  • What it is not: A place where you have no accountability whatsoever.
The Idea Called UpGrad: A Start Up For Start-Ups

Therefore, as a CEO, it is very important to trickle down the right message of freedom at work, to all teams. Me, along with all my friends at UpGrad, are lucky to witness this freedom in our open office!
We are a bunch of crazy, dedicated individuals who strive to achieve excellence in whatever we do. Majority of the population here does not belong to ed-tech or the education-related industries and yet they have been doing a fantastic job in ensuring that UpGrad moves closer to its goal, inch by inch, day by day. We mostly credit this to our freedom at work!

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  1. So true chirag…. good article… and well written. We often tend to miss out on the same and dont knw whom to blame when things fail …

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