Interlocking Leader Standard Work

The concept of leader standard work was introduced in Chapter 5; we’ll expand on the concept here by exploring the features that sustain the transformation.

Leader standard work represents the value-added work that management does on a regular basis—those things without which the operations of the organization would suffer. It ensures that people focus on the things that will make us successful for the long term, rather than constantly getting pulled into one urgent distraction after another. The phone calls, e-mails, fire drills, and other interruptions over time can prevent us from doing the work that enables our success. One of the secrets of leader standard work is that, when implemented successfully, it actually gives us more time—it is not an additional work load, but rather reserves time for leaders to focus on things that matter most, like strategy and innovation. It creates time for leaders by placing attention on developing our people and building problemsolving muscle in our organizations so that when the inevitable problems occur, these people are empowered and equipped to solve them.

Sustainability requires the introduction of checks and balances into leader standard work. Each successive layer of management must have activities that verify the actions and standard work of the previous level. It is critical that you not think of this verification as trying to catch someone doing something wrong. In fact, we prefer to think of this as catching people doing things right while reinforcing focused continuous improvement. Leader standard work is directed at those activities that ensure that each layer of managers and associates is focused on what drives the engine of lean: problem solving and continuous improvement. Standards, including those for leaders, are simply a baseline on which we can (in fact, on which we must) improve on a routine basis. This is a subtlety that many people miss: Lean focuses on process, but for the purpose of improvement rather than adherence to the way we’ve always done it. The standard is just the starting point.

The methods to implement these checks are as varied as your imagination, but all should have a common element: the review of each leader’s standard work with his or her manager. The specific needs of the organization as well as the level of the leader should dictate the frequency. For example, the review might be every 2 weeks for a frontline manager and his boss, but only once a month or quarterly between the CEO and CIO. The focus of this session is on the person’s ability to execute standard work and to review and respond to improvement suggestions, as well as a discussion of anything that is proving to be a blocker to the shared objectives of the team. This review should be explicitly entered into every leader’s standard worksheet as well.

The purpose of the review is continuous improvement. If it is used to punish staff members for not adhering to standard work, it will kill collaboration and prevent sustained change. Look for improvements and use a questioning mindset: What is preventing focus on value-added work? Who can provide coaching and help?

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