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.