Autonomy is the buzzword these days. Employees all say they want it(1). Employers tell you they give it.

But then why does almost every cold message I get on LinkedIn and every interview I have with potential hires tell me that they're looking for autonomy in their work?

Probably because in most cases it doesn't really exist.

Autonomy, in a work context, means having the power to do what's right for the company without any sort of approval from a higher-up.

That doesn't mean you don't discuss the correct path with your coworkers, or that you don't make compromises to find some sort of healthy middle ground.

But it does mean that you're not waiting for permission all the time, and that your manager isn't a blocker to you getting the thing done.

And in my experience, that's rare.

People who want to work at PostHog talk about our autonomous culture a lot - and they want to know if it's real. Does the handbook actually represent reality?

We had a situation this week that made the level of our autonomy super clear. We accidentally some dropped data for a $30k ARR customer due to some manual mistakes complemented with a small billing bug. With no involvement from execs or "managers"(2), we:

  • Talked to the customer.
  • Fixed the bug.
  • Reprioritized pipeline work to make sure this never happens again.
  • Decided to spend money to see if we could recover the data (couldn't, unfortunately).

No one pinged the CTO or CEO (which would be common at other 40-person startups). No one asked for permission. We just did what needed to be done. Obviously they will be briefed, but there was no waiting around for permission.

That is autonomy.

I've had semi-autonomy at one job, almost none at two others, and this degree of autonomy at only one (PostHog). It's pretty special, and if you can find a place to support it, it feels magical.


(1) IMO autonomy is not meant for all. Some people struggle with making quality decisions in certain areas, or with making decisions in general.

(2) Team leads were the ones involved in this situation, but they aren't technical managers. They are ICs who help guide the team but don't approve work.