Direction and directors for competence 4

Focus on self-control


In part 3 I discussed creating a balance between management, and the independence or even autonomy of workers. Because full structured work is rare, workers mostly direct their work processes, partly or as a whole. By implication the work isn’t short cyclic as in mass production. In Europe, you’ll find hardly mass production; mass-customization and small series production are more frequent. In small-firms you’ll find other, more long cyclic production concepts in which workers direct and control themselves. Self-direction, handling degrees of freedom or problem solving is important for workers. Let’s discuss about self-directive and self-controlling workers in relation with the features of labour.

Definition of independency and autonomy

I think that self-directive and self-controlling workers are independent and sometimes are autonomous, in some way. Independency means to me that workers consciously do and adjust their jobs, according to uncertainties so that the work processes are efficient and effective, without interventions and/or control of managers according to the specifications of the job at the beginning of the processes. Autonomy means to me that workers define the job themselves in interactions with customers. Autonomous workers direct and control themselves and account for the quality of processes, results and customers satisfaction  with the professional community and their managers.

Analysis/conceptual framework

Self-direction, as a condition for independence of autonomy, has rational and psychological elements.

Self-directive workers operate within problem spaces[1] in which decisions have to be taken. We expect that they are competent in problem solving. If workers are responsible for an proper execution of the work, according to the specifications of the company of a supervisor, then the problem space is limited. Degrees of freedom are almost absent. The problem space increases as workers care for a proper implementation in unpredictable circumstances in which workers adjust processes and results for an efficient and effective operation. The problem space is large if workers care for a proper specification of processes and results in an interaction with customers. Independent workers operate within the companies’ framework, the companies organisation, the production concept of the unit and the features of labour. No doubt this work is knowledge based.

Prerequisite conditions

Knowledge is a prerequisite for operating in problem areas and problem solving. This is the rational aspect of self-direction. Problems can be solved in a rational approach. I would like to distinguish levels of knowledge according to levels of codification. Knowledge of the first level is based on the habits or theory of practice of the company or the workshop as well as the specifications of the work order. At the second  is not only the specifications and the habits are relevant but also the workers’ theories of practice and expertise are relevant. Communication about the work is the start of the codification and rationalisation of even standardisation. At the third level codified knowledge of designs, methods or heuristics[2] and/or scientific theories are relevant for problem solving.

Self-direction has psychological aspects or prerequisites. The utilisation of knowledge in problem solving needs cognitive abilities. For example, reasoning whilst approaching uncertain and unpredictable processes or reading situations by means of expertise and knowledge. Self-direction has its methodological or systematic approach.

Reliance is the psychological prerequisite for working in problem spaces. Workers motivate themselves using the right cognitive tactics. It concerns responsibility, independent  or autonomous action, problem solving, coping changes and motivation.

Hierarchy in direction and control

Reflection on my blogs about direction and control brings me to a structuring and ranking of levels based on the coverage of its instruments.

  1. Creating a company with a configuration of functional units, each with an appropriate production concept with specific features of labour. The coverage concerns the whole company.
  2. Balancing direction and control with degrees of freedom to act accordingly to uncertain circumstances. Balancing means finding an optimum in structuring the work and the workplaces, the tasks and instructions for a sound production, with account for uncertainties by unpredictable circumstances in which workers can’t wait for instructions and decide about processes and results. The coverage concerns the rationale for workers and managers for longer times. It’s a rationale for the relations between workers and the management about independence and control. The revised IPO-model point out many factors influencing the balance.
  3. Specifying processes and result(s) within the framework of the balance. Work orders or specified tasks are instruments for direction and control. The coverage concerns a task or a work order.
  4. Knowledge-based and reasoned implementation, customization, design or execution of assignment or task, within the frame of a production concept, the balance and the allowed degrees of freedom. Heuristics, models, theories are means facilitate reasoning. The coverage concerns a specific work order or task.
  5. Mental self-control and self-direction during structuring problems and facing unexpected difficulties. The coverage concerns a worker at a specific moment performing a task.


Notice that the levels 1-3 mainly, not always, are the responsibility of the managers; the others are the responsibility of workers.

[1] Degrees in freedom to act is a competence requirement from the perspective of the employer or manager; that is the complement of problem space within which workers operate: the perspective of the worker.

[2] For example, basic patterns for analysis, advice, (re-) design, manufacture or realization or operations. It is a meta-model for professional products expressing differences in the functions of research, development and application of knowledge. Later I talk about the treatment of knowledge production of companies.

Directions and directors of competence 3

Focus at possibilities  for direction and control by managers and/or workers

 In part two, I discussed the formulation of guidelines for defining and describing competence for employability. I was critical about the usefulness of task decompositions. I also discussed my preference for analysis and the definition of functional criteria and my disgust about a universal concept of competence for HRM and VET. The necessary competence for employability is mainly determined by the characteristics of the labour by means of a production concept. The analysis supports alignment of logics for the company goals, the production, the competence for employability and the control of workers.

 Production logic

When a company formulated her goals, organised the production and their workers know their tasks. the quest for efficient and effective work arises. Mostly an order is insufficient for the work to be done. Questions as what to do, how to do, with which means and what are the best conditions (the W-questions) seem adequate because the organisation and the planning are in order. Above that, workers must know what to do, be competent and motivated. They aren’t robots; competence, instruction and motivation must be in balance. These so-called W-questions apply fully structured and therefore predictable work at a well-designed workplace. This is only the case for short-cycle work in a workshop or on an assembly line. Others are responsible for stages of the production cycle as the design, preparation and planning.

The effect of expertise is undeniable; the W-questions would then no longer be held because the personal practice theory is sufficient. But still, these also can serve as a reference for long cyclic work in which workers are responsible for multiple phases and in unpredictable work conditions. Because, in unexpected situations workers adjust the work order so that the work is feasible and lead to effective results. In those cases there is some or even complete freedom of action of the workers. So, the influence of expertise on the balance between structure and freedom for the workers is undeniable. Experienced workers work on the automatic pilot in stable working conditions. But, in dynamic environment or unpredictable conditions work processes and activities have to be geared to the circumstances.

So the question is relevant or a complete structuring is possible and desirable. In dynamic or less predictable work environments  again and again all the decisions about the structuring have to be geared  to one another: by the company, the managers, the workers and the production logic finding the most efficient and effective way of producing. I focus on the reconciliation between the production logic and control logic.

 Towards a logic

My logic for direction and control is based on factors that influence the course of work. A revised version of the information-transformation model (IPO) provides an overview of factors affecting the efficient and effective conduct of the work. The model has a heuristic nature because it is useful for all levels of detail: some activities, series of activities or a working process, stages in the production cycle or even a chain of companies. Perspectives as the necessary conditions, or the balance in leadership and self-direction are possible. The model also provides linking factors for the (self-)direction of independent workers. The model does not support the analysis of the cognitive processes during the working process. But more on that later.

  • The model begins with the characteristics of the input (or materials information) and its quality, the description of the process, and ends with the specification of the result.
  • Afterwards follow screen instructions for the proper conduct of the operations or processes.
  • Then the necessary conditions are described e.g. competence, expertise and given freedom of action of the workers during the process.
  • Instructions serve the communication about the process, the results and the decisions  for acceptance of the product delivered and the improvement of processes.
  • Then the necessary conditions are described as competence, expertise and provided freedom of the workers during the process.
  • Sometimes rules are necessary for the interaction between customers and workers for decision making before, during and after production or services.
  • Uncertainties that interfere with decisions such as variations of the input, the unpredictable  circumstances, the information brought in by workers or their colleagues, variations desired by customers desired , and finally, changes in the opinions of the customers.
  • Don’t forget that motivation plays an important role!

This set of factors makes it clear that a full control is difficult, if not an unfeasible case.

 A fuzzy logic for the control of workers?

Could balancing control and independence become less complex by the introduction of models for the organisation of companies, features of labour and the features of production? I expect that the models offer rules of the thump for the instruments for control and the division of responsibilities between workers and managers. Integration of these models create a fuzzy logic for balancing and alternatives for HRM and VET. In addition, I propose to create a scale of production concepts, operationalized with the characteristics of labour, with increasing independence and decreasing control. After validation is a further functional operationalization of instruments to the order for HRM and vocational education.  All in all creates a set of instruments for the question of the competence for vocational education and HRM.

Direction and directors of competence 2

Approaches for pointing or description of competence

In part 1 several activities emerged from developing a strategy, creating a company and directing the competence of workers. Clearing the goals of the company and organising the production and/or services is one of these. Others are selecting a configuration of company units, their functions, production and competence concepts. Or the design of workplaces to ensure that the work is efficient and meets quality standards. Or the search for solutions to the tension between management control and independence or even autonomy of workers. And, finally, the search for solutions for the dynamics of the surrounding environment. Formulating guidelines for the description of tasks or bundles of tasks and also for the processes for development, expanding and transition of competence follows after the previous strategic activities. These guidelines have functions. In the case of HRM they are the referential framework for selecting, directing, coaching, and evaluations or workers. In the case of VET they are a framework for the development of training and exams. The question is what choices the developers have to make. The guidelines concern the transformation of the tasks of bundles of tasks into functional instruments for HRM of VET.


The division of tasks into detectable series of activities seems to be obvious, but is not. Because it is an implicit choice for a atomized of functionalized approach in which workers are machines instead of humans. Although this division contributes to efficiency and effectiveness, but ignores the fact that there is always a influence of workers. Other choices are possible and necessary. The final choice for an approach requires an information base.

  • The first step should be an analysis of the characteristics of the work and not a high degree of decomposition of the work. Decide first and foremost the amount of work to be done, autonomy in the choice of the work order, method, and the pace of work, the support of others and expertise. In other words, you clarify the set quantitative job demands, autonomy, contact opportunities and skill possibilities following Damme et all. Working with models of labour organisations, models for production and competence makes this easier. The development of a company, establishing features of labour and development of guidelines is also an tuning process for an optimal organisation.
  • The second step should be the determination of sets of criteria in order to create arrangements for selection and formative or summative evaluation and for education or development. A specific function for VET is a decomposition of de necessary competence into components for employability and absolute conditions, a prerequisite for curricular components.
  • The third step would be to determine the methods of measurement and decision rules for determining employability, contribution to company goals or to be developed competence; partly based on the characteristics of work.

 Assuming a universal competence concept for the guideline for many the easiest solution. I don’t think this is the best. The probability of non-valid tools for an adequate connection with the demand for employability will increase. In my opinion the characteristics of labour are not universal for any business or profession. Especially the production concept of the business units in the enterprise configuration defines the concept. Such a model, which is a production concept, summarizes many decisions about characteristics of labour. The detailed models can serve as evaluation tools for the assessment of all instruments for HR and VET. Guidelines for vocational miss such information, thereby creating a flat or naive interpretation of competence. Take in any manner whatsoever, production concepts in the guidelines. For example, as a compulsory feature of the educational and evaluative arrangements. Because the production concept affects the demands for competence, the balance between taking leadership and guidance, the freedom of workers and the extent to which the company or executives can structure the workplace. Naturally, the production concepts influence the educational and evaluative arrangements of vocational education. Altogether there are several strategic choices for businesses and vocational training.

 Strategic choices

Strategic choices for models of competence should be in line with the organisation of a company. This is hardly possible for vocational education for legislative reasons. Specific information about the organization of work in a company is missing; selection of a production concept as a reference is not possible. This hinders a direct link with the needs for competence. But in the Dutch constitution the government is responsible for the quality of education, including VET and takes several measures to compensate this lack of information in the models and the guidelines.

  •  A compulsory apprenticeship when following VET bridges the gap between a more theoretical approach of school and real work in companies. National qualification standards a the responsibility of a national committee with employers and Schools for VET as partners working together in a legal framework. Schools for VET also have to interact with companies in their region and work together in planning, development, training and examination for qualification.
  • The  European and the Dutch qualification framework provide a link with characteristics of work and indirect with production concepts. They offer a classification of levels of VET and a range of curricular building blocks for defining competence per level, mental activities for integration of theory and practice included. indicators of the levels are the job size, complexity and the independence or autonomy of workers.

 The uncertainty in the real action is an aspect that is omitted in the typing competence by HRM and vocational education. In both the environmental dynamics, production concepts and the unpredictability of work lack in the guidelines and the descriptions. Therefore a revision of the guidelines and formats is necessary. Extra action should be taken for getting data about the characteristics of the organisations of labour, the labour self and the tasks or task bundles. Above that an analysis of the uncertainty or unpredictability is needed.

Direction and directors of competence 1

Mutual involvement of employers, workers and government is a special feature of the direction of competence. Above that, the nature of those relations is exceptional. The Flemish poet Elschot once sighed that between dream and action “… laws interfere and practical objections and also melancholy” (Elschot: the marriage). It concerns love and attraction. This poet seems to reflect on the problematic relation between a husband and his obvious eldering espouse, losing her attractiveness. But the sigh is also helpful in a reflection on the relation between employers and workers. To stay successful as a company the workers should be and stay employable. If not, the relation becomes problematic and a desire rises to continue with other, more promising, workers. Workers also have their demands: they want to become and stay happy with their employer. Therefore the employer must be and stay attractive. The relation between employers and workers is mutual. Both have to work on a good relation. Labour relations come about in a joint effort of workers, HRM and the government. Love and employability are matters of hard labour, communication and direction. This metaphor of creating and maintaining a relation, even a marriage, will be applied for the relation between employers and workers.

 Knowing what you want is an absolute condition for a director; and therefore an employer and his workers. Contract formation benefits from transparency. The imago, goals, products and services of a company express a need to survive, to make profits and even to grow. Workers commit their selves with and will come to a mutual understanding and commitment and to an exchange: effort for wages. Implicit formal and informal contracts are the basis of relations as in a marriage. Irritations occur when the reality not corresponds with the expectations or the contracts and the tolerance or mutual trust diminishes; the relationship comes under strain.

               Contract formation begins with an information exchange clearing the goals of both partners. Specific conditions, e.g. the company’s strategy, play their role. A company has an appropriate, functional and efficient  configuration of units, each with specific tasks and production concepts. Units create a structure of well-defined tasks or task bundles. An analysis of these and possibilities  for directing and controlling tasks give ground to the competence demands. It also clears features of labour and the conditional degrees of freedom of action for workers in the production cycle. Which are conditions for a sound balance between the directing and controlling the work and degrees of action for the workers. During the process (prospective) workers reflect on the results of the analysis and wonder they can contribute to the company goals, are competent, have the expertise and whether or not the exchange of effort and wages favours their needs in the short and long term. Defining the desired and necessary competence has characteristics of an iterative search process for an optimal balance between division of labour and production, the competence of workers and the features of the work itself. Important are the possibilities for structuring the work processes ad a sound balance between  directing and controlling the production and degrees of freedom in action for workers influence. The conditional competence can be retracted form this information. Realize that a number of variations are possible in this process of research and choices between many options. 

But there’s much more. A well organised workplace structures the job and attributes to the efficiency and effectiveness and by that the attainment of the company’s goals. Workplaces are organized in a way that workers can read them know what to do. These ‘affordances’ define the work. Compare it to the organisation of a house of a partnership: a well organised house is a pleasure to live in and attributes to a sound household. But what to do in the case a workplace can’t be organised in advance? E.g. a service mechanic working on many places with a variety of features of technical devices. Again and again the workplace has to be ‘read’ and the work and the tools adapted to the circumstances. Unpredictability is a defining feature of a workplace and competence demands. And what to do in case of technological innovations, chancing economy and customers’ needs and an adapting production organisation in a dynamic environment? A transition of the company and its workshops is needed in order to survive. In a marriage the partners have to communicate in order to adapt the developments in their environment. And companies and their workers? 

Responding to the uncertainty due to dynamics and/or unpredictability is possible by methods such as pacifying the distinguishing targets of workers and employers, negotiations about the changing bundle of tasks or by mutual learning processes  in order to develop new products or services. Ergo, contract formation is an ongoing process.


During contract formation the description of task bundles is an important fact in organizing a production and in the mutual contract formation. Don’t expect these descriptions always apply in a dynamic environment or unpredictable workplaces. On the contrary. task bundles are functional models of a reality and certainly in dynamic or unpredictable situations. Again and again a revisions of the contract are necessary in order to clear the needs for employability or ( in the term of our metaphor) the marriage going.


The metaphor of the marriage is not fully valid as a model; the partners in a job are not formal equal as in marriage. Firstly, in work relations there is a hierarchy between employer and worker. Secondly, contracts have to fit in the frame work of formal and practical laws fulfilling conditions for a sound contract formation protecting the rights of both partners. The need for protection has been proved many times. Thirdly, the idea of an endurable contract between employers and workers is considered inappropriate in a hyper dynamic environment and a violent global competition. The response is a flexible workforce on a basis of short term contracts: loose labour. In terms of a relations: mutual benefits in a short time for clear defined tasks. After a job done the company and the worker evaluate the contribution; a negative position results in a farewell. The loose worker looks out for new jobs. A condition is that the possibility of modularisation of the production (in toe phases of the product cycle) into defined jobs. In an ex-ante evaluation the prospective contributions will judged. Flexibility is a strategic choice of the employer and the worker; both expect a profit.

 Flexibility is possible if many conditions are fulfilled. Both, employers and workers, become director of their short term relation and both need specific competencies. In addition to the more ‘technical’ competencies workers must be able to analyse the offered jobs and value their competency, renew their competency in order to adapt new technologies and customers’ needs and to negotiate the contracts. Also workers need to market their the value of expertise and the prospective contribution to the company’s goals and maintain their financials. Knowledge production, acquisition, negotiation, finances and micro-HRM are areas of additional expertise. Employers must have the competence to organise the production for a flexible workforce, for ex-ante and ex-post evaluation of the competence: a more technical HRM. In short flexibility of production leads to wider competence than earlier stated.

 Apparently starts directing skill in formulating goals, designing products and services and develop a business configuration. That’s not all. The environmental dynamics requires companies to resume all of this and to adapt so that the objects can be achieved. Managing a business is an ongoing search and selection process. This has consequences for the workers needs no further discussion. They will also adapt the changes to keep de labour relation lively and profitable for both. It is not a unilateral quest, both, employers and workers, are directors of their labour relation and the work. The comparison of a labour relation with a marriage reveals that these are dynamic and profit from a good interaction. Above that, relations are not a matter of arrangement but a variety of processes such as learning and negotiation.