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.