Management & Organization

Self-directed work

Self-directed work is a newer term within management and organizational theory, and frames a way of leadership where a company offers employees freedom and at the same time shows that they trust them. Self-directing means that you manage or lead yourself.

In this theme we'll focus on self-direction and on how you can manage yourself or use the shares tips to methods to help your coworkers become (more) self-managing.

Yahoo’s new CEO bans working from work

Recently the CEO of the American search engine Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, banned working from home and demanded that every employee works in the office. Her argument is that some of the best decisions and insights occur when people are talking on the hallways and in the cafeteria, when meeting new people and from improvised work meetings. Speed, efficiency and quality are often sacrificed when employees work from home. She did this as a part of an initiative to save Yahoo’s economy, and the idea is to gather forces and enhance the cohesion in the company, to make sure everyone's working on improving the results.

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group, criticizes the decision on his blog and says, that it undermines the trust in the employee’s ability to do his/her work without having management constantly looking over their shoulder. The company must deliver the right technology for staying in contact, keep up regular communication and that way create the right balance between remote work and office work. According to Branson this motivates people to work responsible, fast and create higher quality.

Marissa Mayer’s decision is met by both criticism and support, and has started a discussion about self-management, trust and flexibility throughout companies.

Are you ready to let your coworkers self-manage?

Great leadership is necessary to lead self-directing employees. They need leaders who can think personnel management and strategic management at the same time. Assistant professor Anders Raastrup Kristensen from Copenhagen Business School comments on the subject in his article “No Self-direction without Management” from the book The Boundryless Work Life – To Manage the Self-Directing Coworkers (2012).

In the article he claims, that a person who wants to be good at managing himself in a work life without boundaries, has to be more aware of how to frame it. And in order to do so he needs a leader who can articulate work activities and tasks, in a way that benefits both the employee and the organization. The leader must focus on work assignments and keep the employee aware of how they create value for the organization, and how employees can help the organization reach its strategic goals. The employees must likewise, know the company’s core jobs and have an understanding of how it does business. Not only does this strengthen self-directing, it also creates cohesion in a company, when everybody works towards a shared strategic goal. And it is particularly important, when employees aren't at the same place or at work at the same time.

You need to manage yourself when you work from home

When a company gives its employees with the opportunity to work from home, self-direction plays an important part. As Anders Raastrup Kristensen points out in his article, the frames for work must be flexible and that employees must be have a say. Work hours and place are no longer the most important frames for our work life. The frames surrounding the self-directing employee's tasks are best arranged in collaboration between manager and employee. Goals are continuingly agreed upon, so your employee can stay on track and do the right things.

Self-direction – the basics

Self-direction is a comprehensive concept which covers many aspects of your personal and professional life. When you want to become better at managing yourself, you have to work within several areas, according to, and to avoid getting them mixed up it is a good idea to focus on one area at a time. Self-direction isn't something you achieve with the blink of an eye. It's a process which requires time and the ability to work toward a goal. Self-direction basically means that you have control over yourself in any situation and that you work your way deliberately and steadily toward your goals. You know your goals and the purpose of the work you are doing. You have discipline, and are focused. Self-direction also include having control over your emotions, impulsivity and actions, and this is crucial when you want to reach your goals both professionally and privately.

When you or your employees work purposefully towards self-management, it is easier to set the frames for the work. Self-direction on the job, whether it be at the office or at home, requires discipline, determination, control, etc. and a way of training this is by looking at the following aspects of your personal and professional life:

1. Goals
Self-directing starts with your personal vision of how you wish to live your life. A powerful vision of where you want to go gives you disciplined endurance. It's important to have both short- and long-term goals you work your way towards every day. The more conscious you are of what you wish to achieve on the job and privately, the easier it is to move self-confidently towards your goal.

2. Beliefs and emotions
Your beliefs and emotions play a big part in self-management. Your emotions mustn't control you – you must control your emotions.

Focus on something positive every day. You may have a job that you really enjoy, or maybe the sun shines on your way to work. If you start the day with a positive thought, it'll last all day.

Resist the temptation to blame yourself when something goes wrong. Self-sabotage is a fast and effective way to stopping yourself and your potential. Instead, think of something encouraging and nice or perhaps think of previous successes, when things are not going well. Teach yourself to turn negative thoughts into positive ones.

Tip: See theme about positive psychology and learn how to turn negative thoughts into positive ones here >

Emotional intelligence is reinforced when you are in control of your emotions. You become more conscious of the needs and feelings of other people, and the knowledge of how your emotions affect others is increased. When you are good at self-management, you'll naturally be more mindful of your surroundings, and you will ensure that your emotions don't have any negative influence on other people.

3. Willpower
Think about all the times you've set yourself a goal that you didn't achieve because you lacked the willpower or self-control. It's happened to us all, and we're disappointed because, again, we failed to follow through.

Willpower is a crucial part of self-management, because it drives you towards action, even if you hesitate or are uncertain of the assignment you are facing. Willpower also helps you meet your goals.

When you want to train your willpower, you must have both rational and emotional motives for what you want to achieve. For instance, if you want to stop surfing the internet at work, the rational motive could be that it's against company policy, and the emotional motive could be that it is frivolous and that your colleagues will respect you less when they see you “do nothing” instead of working.

4. Focus
Focus is also a keys to self-management. How much time do you, for instance, spend on the internet, talking to colleagues or getting coffee during work hours?

Start by working on your concentration. Focus on one assignment at a time. You'll notice that in the beginning you are unable to focus 100 % for more than one hour at a time, but if you add 15 minutes every week, you can work your way towards two hours of focus on a task.

When you work with on your ability to self-manage and combine this with a good understanding of the company’s goals and strategy you'll optimize your tasks and routines to achieving the best results. A workday with focus on calm and the bigger things will make it more satisfying to go to work. When you become good at managing yourself, you can achieve more and perhaps work less. You'll have time for immersion and for focusing on the things that matter.