Lotte Bailyn is Professor of Organizational Psychology and Management at the Sloan School of Management, MIT. Her research on technical careers has appeared in numerous journals and in her book, Living With Technology: Issues at Mid-Career.
Autonomy in the industrial R&D lab
Article first published online: 2 NOV 2006
Copyright © 1985 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company
Human Resource Management
Volume 24, Issue 2, pages 129–146, Summer 1985
How to Cite
Bailyn, L. (1985), Autonomy in the industrial R&D lab. Hum. Resour. Manage., 24: 129–146. doi: 10.1002/hrm.3930240204
- Issue published online: 2 NOV 2006
- Article first published online: 2 NOV 2006
- Office of Naval Research
This article distinguishes between “strategic autonomy” (the freedom to set one's own research agenda) and “operational autonomy” (the freedom, once a problem has been set, to attack it by means determined by oneself, within given resource constraints). The article argues, and presents some preliminary corroborating data, that technical careers in the R&D lab should start lower on strategic than on operational autonomy, that operational autonomy should show initial fairly rapid increase, which should be followed by increases in strategic autonomy, and that thereafter a number of different career paths should be available for technical employees. Most labs, however, seem to espouse a philosophy of strategic autonomy combined with operational controls, which creates dilemmas and contradictions in the technical career, particularly at its start. It is proposed that these two aspects of autonomy can usefully be thought of as a two-dimensional grid. Different positions on this grid seem to fit with different orientations and different tasks, and require different strategies for career management. The article ends with a discussion of these management implications.