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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Autonomy and Flexibility: the freedom to fail and succeed

My career in recreation has been as a programmer and a manager.  With my current employer I am fortunate to have a lot of autonomy and flexibility in my work schedule.  With my first full-time parks and recreation job I inherited a lot of well established programs and spent the first couple of years learning about these programs and running them.  After a year or two I wanted to try a few new things.  The gift of autonomy allowed me to try new program ideas, make changes that I thought were for the best and try to take the program to a new level.  Sometimes it worked out great, but other times it was a failure . . . and some were absolute flops.  I was lucky to have a director who supported my efforts (despite there being a few people in the community who wanted me fired after a change I implemented).  In John Perrin’s  blog article, Happy First Failure, he talks about why failure is valuable and how an individual can benefit from taking ownership of the failure and how a team can be better from the lessons learned.
This same message can be found in these simple quotes:
  • You've got to go out on a limb sometimes because that's where the fruit is.” - Will Rogers
  • “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” - Albert Einstein
  • “Ever tried? Ever Failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” - Samuel Becket
  • “I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” - Michael Jordan
  • “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.” - Thomas J. Watson
I’m proud that in my department we take risks and try new things.  We get lucky a lot with programming and the facilities we’ve built, as a majority of them are a success, but we will fail now and then – and we must be tolerant of failure.  Playing it safe is boring and will not help us get to our goal of ’being the department that all other professionals want to work for’.  In short . . . now and then you need to 'go big or go home'.

Another factor about my job that I love is my ability to set my own hours.  I value having flexible work hours.  Typically, I work from 8 am to 5 or 6 pm, but not always.  I workout 3 to 4 times a week during lunch and usually spend an hour-and-a-half playing basketball or tennis, or swimming.  In fact, this has become such a major part of my daily routine that I look forward to because I know I'll get play-time in the middle of the work day.  I still put in my 8 hours, but it might mean working a little later or in the evening at home or over the weekend, which I have no problem doing.  Truth is, I'm a better, more motivated employee because of this.  I probably put in greater effort and work longer than I would if I had to clock-in and clock-out every day.  Jeff James, Vice President of the Disney Institute, wrote a short piece titled, 'What Do Employees Want?'  In it he talks about the things that can make the work experience so enjoyable.  I can honestly say I enjoy all of the points listed in James' article and, in turn, try to do the same for the people who work for me.

It's important to note that these factors are not unique to me in my department - they are part of the department's culture.  Now and then I do have to skip my noon workout because of a project, a meeting, or a deadline, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.  I have the responsibility to get my work done, but am given the autonomy and respect to manage my time and schedule - and it goes an awfully long way towards my job satisfaction.