Autonomy in the Industrial R&D Lab

TitleAutonomy in the Industrial R&D Lab
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1985
AuthorsBailyn, L.
Secondary TitleHuman Resource Management

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.