Leader standard work is an essential component in a lean environment. The fact is that using lean with processes without changing leadership principles and practices never goes well. Consequently, when leaders stick to their old ways the new lean processes will eventually break.
Leader standard work should include activities that support lean principles. For example, leaders need to schedule time to see reality from the gemba, to develop and coach their team members, and to assess and reinforce the alignment to the True North goals.
The most common challenge people face when implementing leader standard work is the discipline and commitment that is required to follow it. This is particularly true if “firefighting” or saving the day through heroic efforts is a behavior that is rewarded in the organization. Establishing routines that make operations more predictable is certainly less thrilling than firefighting.
So, why do leaders need standard work?
Sometimes you need training wheels
Leading in a lean environment requires different mental models than traditional leadership. Leaders in improvement cultures ask questions versus giving answers and they lead from the gemba versus leading the gemba. Jeff Liker uses the metaphor of training wheels when he describes leader standard work. Like the training wheels for someone who is learning to ride a bike, leader standard work helps develop new muscle memory and makes the new leadership patterns second nature.
You must standardize a process before you can improve it
Management is a set of processes. Leaders, as everybody else, use processes. Since every process can be improved, it makes perfect sense to standardize leadership processes and use the standards to identify problems and as an opportunity for continuous improvement.
Respect every individual
Respect for every individual is one of the principles that most adopt when working to transform to a culture of continuous improvement. When a leader adopts the use of leader standard work they are showing respect by leading by example. If we ask frontline employees to design, follow, and improve their standard work, it would seem respectful that leaders do the same. Additionally, when leader standard work is in place the team members face less variation from leaders.
When the frontline staff defines their process standard work, they use their collective expertise. Standard work is designed to achieve the best possible outcomes. For the frontline leader to achieve superior results, leader standard work will be designed to support frontline standard work. Leaders should aim to ensure that frontline employees are successful at following their standard work one hundred percent of the time.
Leader standard work requires humility, patience, and commitment. It will take time to see the benefits of adopting leader standard work, but they will be long-lasting. Leader standard work is important in helping to sustain improvements and to continue to keep staff engaged. It is often the glue of the lean management system and can help keep your organization’s transformation journey in motion.
Leader Standard Work workshop
Principle-Based Executive Coaching
Book: Beyond Heroes, by Kim Barnas