Last autumn, we asked our staff what self-direction should mean at Epec. The top three responses covered the following aspects: 1) taking responsibility for one’s own as well as the team’s work, 2) initiative and solution-orientation, 3) independent action for reaching the common goal. In other words, the highlighted aspects were precisely those that self-direction literature is bursting with. And there’s a lot of literature on self-direction. Self-direction is currently one of the buzzwords of management theory, suggested as a possible solution to many kinds of problems.
As a practical person, I feel privileged as I have been able to see our company’s transition phase towards the culture of self-direction in action – the journey is not yet complete, but we’re making good speed! At Epec, we trust people and their desire to do things as well as possible. I’m happy to say that so many positive things have already been achieved by this new approach: there is more mutual trust, the decision-making is quicker, the “us” spirit has strengthened, the flow of information has developed, and the crew’s commitment to the common goal has been amazing.
It’s clear that self-direction also has its flip sides. When people have started to get things done actively and independently, we’ve sometimes experienced a situation where “the left hand didn’t know what the right was doing”. With good management and working operation development practices, such situations can be tackled. In other words, self-direction does not authorise individuals to do arbitrary work; instead, good management and clear processes and operating methods for guiding everyone’s daily work are necessary also in self-directing organisations. Epec has also put a great deal of emphasis on open communication and sufficient notifications, so that the staff would have good prerequisites to work self-directedly.
Every individual experiences and views things differently, in their own unique way. That is also the case with self-direction. And as there are around a hundred employees at Epec, we also have nearly as many different ways of understanding self-direction and work as a part of a self-directing organisation. It’s important to take into consideration every person’s individual needs and perceptions, to give everyone plenty of time to adapt to self-directing work and to provide support when necessary. The journey is long, and a self-directing culture cannot be achieved by snapping your fingers. Along the way, we must ensure that there is no inequality among the staff, making sure that even the quieter folks can make their voices heard.
However, trust is the key word for self-direction. Trust fosters responsibility. Responsibility fosters commitment. Commitment fosters putting yourself on the line, and flexibility. Putting yourself on the line fosters successes. Successes foster work well-being. And finally, staff well-being fosters the company’s results. That is the path Epec is currently on, and I believe it will lead us far!