Self-direction and managing own work

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Self-direction is recognized as a very suitable organising method in expert work. A prerequisite for it is understanding the importance of managing one’s own work and trust between employees and employer about the rules of the game in this “low” organization model.

“If I can’t control their work performance, how do I know the necessary things will be done on time?” .. OR .. “Am I left alone with my work or do I get support when the diversity of my jobs requires it?” . . Very common questions recarding this issue.

Many are upset and may even get angry to run into a few people who shouldn’t be in the service of any organization. However, they seem to be present in companies and communities at all levels and responsible for a wide range of tasks. Somewhere there are a few of them, somewhere more. They create ambiguity and inefficiency, make it difficult for things to progress, and complicate the work of others in many ways.

“Anyone can do this.”

It is unfortunate that these “employees” often get their assignments in organizations from those whose job it would be to worry about their existence. Who are they? You’ve probably heard often that they get assignments to their account and get to handle even business-critical issues. May I introduce: “Someone Else” and “Anyone”.

Or haven’t you heard the saying: “Could someone else do this”. Or, “Anyone can do this.” Thus, by entrusting the matter to “Someone Else” and outsourcing the responsibility to “Any One”, two completely new job titles are created: now the company has on its payroll also “No One” and he/she bears the responsibility of “No Body” who is responsible for taking care of “Nothing”.

Don’t try. Instead of trying, you should just do things.

“Efforts are being made to streamline things.” Instead of making efforts, things should be done and work communities should (jointly) responsibly ensure that the above-mentioned phenomena do not remain as standard practices. Things that are sought to be left to someone else will pretty much later be taken care of by “Everyone Else” or “Poor Someone” only with a much shorter preparation and implementation schedule and a much worse forecast in terms of quality.

It is worth seeing the effect of excluding passive expressions as well as “trying” from the action plan. With the example sentences: “The aim is to get that thing done during the spring” .. and .. “We will get that thing done during the spring” there is a clear difference in how propable the implementation seems to be during  the spring.

These phenomena are clearly seen in communities that rely on self-directed organization if no emphasis has been put on self-directing and organizing people’s own work. Not enough or no attention at all. After all, self-direction does not mean that you can decide yourself to ignore to do things. Or that you can ignore the staff and leave them to survive with themselves.

Self-direction does not mean that you can decide yourself to ignore to do things.

The term self-direction began to appear clearly in the mainstream somewhere around 2013-2015. Admittedly, there is nothing revolutionary in it. Expert businesses have been organized in the same way, by nature, for decades. But as a major phenomenon, self-direction was “reinvented” in the early 2010s when it was found to be well suited at that time.

Why was there more use for self-direction at that time? In addition that it is a western cultural phenomena, also the change in the global economic structure is a big picture in the background. Where the amount of productive work has decreased, the need for expert work has increased. The development of specialist expertise in various fields, and in particular the development of information and communication technologies, has led to the fact that middle management is no longer necessary in large scale and sometimes it was not even possible. When commissioning and supervision of work has been cut off, as well as administrative middle management, the performance of work has become tremendously more efficient. And when, in any case, the work still needs to be organized in some way, it has come to the point that the work is organized by oneself. In other words, we are self-directed.

Everything would be great without us humans. 

Many ideologies are perfect in theory, “on paper”. So is also self-direction. There are many examples in the history of mankind of ideologies and ideas that, if successful, would have produced prosperity and happiness.

And technologies likewise. There is a lot of talk about the digitalisation in recent years, for example. Digitalisation is accelerating on and on and it’s becoming dominant in more and more areas of life. Then it is said that digitalisation makes things challenging. But no. Digitalisation does not make things challenging. People do. We take from digital what is superior in it: the speed; and we add to it the most difficult, that is, human. And the mess is ready.

This may occur also in self-direction principle. The employer may think that we are saving on management and speeding up the completion of projects. When a company declares that we are now self-directed, then 90% of staff don’t know how to act. If one has to first “unlearn” from some other practice when self-dirction falls like from heaven to the desktop, then there is a paralyzing chaos of all to be expected.

“On time” is not enough any more.

It is human and perfectly normal that we are all different, differently paced and different in managing and organizing our own work. One has a different heart rate in doing than the other. One who is accustomed to being ready “on time” is now in trouble because “on time” – that is, at the last possible moment – is no longer enough. Much of the work is still team work. The rest of the team cannot wait with their input for that last minute reacher to be ready with his/her own share. Others must also be able to do their part. And the actual group work is also needed in the process.

It is the scheduling that is the most challenging component of self-direction. The schedule is not that “next week Tuesday will be a presentation to customer.” According to which team member’s work performance the progress time formes? Who evaluates and decides on the necessary changes? What is the last possible time for the completion of an individual team member’s performance so that the overall team contribution can be executed? And so on.

Eventhough much of the work is in pairs or in collaboration with a wider team, there is always a need for each team member to do their own individual performance. Competence in managing one’s own work is worth of its weight in gold in self-direction.

Late = Started too late and missed.
On time = At the last minute. Was left unfinished.
In good time = Finished the day before. Time for quick fixes.
On schedule = Several days time to improve.  

“Nothing is ever perfectly finished.”

In continuous improvement, nothing is ever perfectly finished. And there will always be situations where work is not done as desired. The reasons can be innumerable. If the reason is defects in managing one’s own work, the problem yields more permanent detriment to teamwork. Part of the nature of teamwork is that the whole team also supports the last minute reacher. But it is not a sustainable procedure and does not support the principle of fairness. If the rest of the team, in addition to their own input, has to regularly support the latecomer, it generates conflicts in teamwork and the quality of work suffers notably.

When professional competence, the ability to manage one’s own work and team work skills are combined, self-direction is the most effective method, especially in design work. The company saves on management costs, turnaround times are shorter, employee levels are high in motivation and peak productivity. From my own experience, I definitely recommend.

Lue itseohjautuvuudesta ja oman työn johtamisesta suomeksi ( fin ).

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Timo Keinänen Explorer, concept designer, art director, writer and graphic designer.
”I belive that you should be yourself, as all other roles are already taken. If you have the opportunity to express an opinion, express your own.”

Thoughts, posts and opinions represent myself only.