7 steps to leader standard work success

Good leadership is the mainstay of organisational health: It shapes the culture of an organisation, improves productivity and drives bottom-line performance. Such pioneering leadership is only possible, however, if there is a structure in place that keeps processes humming along efficiently and frees up the time required to drive value-added actions.


In lean circles, Leader Standard Work (LSW) – the process of ensuring standard work processes and practices are in place and consistently followed – is a key driver of leadership success. This structured lean management approach is vital for achieving consistent, high-quality performance and eliminating wasteful activities.

While standard work is common practice at operator and team leader level, some of its fundamentals are equally useful and applicable at a senior leadership level. Aligning and directing these activities throughout the organisation unlocks real customer value as it improves key metrics such as productivity, cost, quality and delivery.


Taking leaders from good to great

Leaders may argue that every day is different and that standardisation will hinder their ability to solve a crisis, but standardisation is precisely what prevents crises from recurring. It assists the leader to focus on the right things to remove non-value-adding activities. LSW is the springboard that catapults leaders from good to great by creating the foundation for creativity, innovation and successful problem-solving.

Correctly applied, LSW ensures that leaders are focused not only on results but on the processes involved in achieving the result. By shifting their leadership mindset from one of issuing commands, directing and solving problems for teams, to one of leading by empowering teams to solve problems for themselves, leaders can spend their time more efficiently.

Senior leaders should have a standard process that they use for strategy development and goal setting, as well as financial controls and reporting. Such a process should be designed to achieve positive results. Therefore, it follows that the better the design of the process, the better the chance of achieving the desired results. This focus on process enables the behaviour of solving problems as they become visible so that leaders at all levels become problem-solvers instead of problem-avoiders.


Seven steps for LSW success

For standard work to take root in your organisation, it requires a profound shift in the organisational mindset. As a leader, you need to catalyse the necessary culture change by modelling the right behaviours. Remember, standard work is not about solving all your organisation’s problems single-handedly ­­—­­­ it’s about coaching your people to detect and solve problems themselves, thereby fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

The following steps will spark the requisite change in your organisation, and help shift your focus from firefighting to forward-thinking:


1. Make standard work visual

When you make standard work visual, for example, with whiteboards, daily planners and documented routines, you are setting an example for your leadership team to follow. It may seem paradoxical, in this digital age, to make use of a whiteboard or printed planner. Still, most executives report that they are more likely to stick to their plan when they can see it in front of them, rather than having to open it up on a device.


2. Formalise problem-solving

Structured problem-solving will give your people the tools they need to uncover the root cause of a problem. By formalising problem-solving, finding solutions becomes an automatic, ingrained response that saves time in the long run.


3. Conduct regular gemba walks

The gemba walk takes senior executives to the ‘real place’ where value is created in a business, be it the shop floor, warehouse, utility lines on-site or office environment. The idea of the gemba walk is simple: Go to the place, look at the process, and talk to the people. This encourages leaders to speak to process owners and to observe and understand the procedures carried out daily. It is essential to let the conversation happen naturally so that you can get the best information possible.


4. Become a coach and mentor to your employees

As an executive leader, your focus should be on coaching, mentoring and growing your employees. When engaging with your people, it may be tempting to provide solutions to the problems they face. A better approach, however, would be to coach your employees to solve the problems themselves. This has two long-term benefits: It will save you time, and help you create an autonomous and empowered workforce. They are, after all, closer to the task and might be better equipped to offer solutions.


5. Create a fault-tolerant environment

Standard work enables the scrutiny and comparison of work tasks, thereby contributing to a culture of relentless problem-solving. Impress upon your people the fact that ‘problem-finding’ is not about apportioning blame and, instead, it is about actively seeking out opportunities for improvement.


6. Document it

Your standard work and that of your executive team must be documented and visible to others. Put problem-solving charts, work standards, process flows and value streams on display so that you and your team have a regular line of sight. Remember, LSW is a living process – when new standards are implemented, the LSW should be changed accordingly to reflect the new current state.


7. Learn to let go

Getting to grips with standardisation takes some time and effort; but, once you and your team have adapted to the change, the time-saving benefits will quickly become apparent. It is at this point that you need to trust your people enough to let go – give them the latitude they require to solve problems independently and to make empowered decisions. They will still make the occasional mistake, but mistakes are an opportunity for learning and a crucial part of the continuous improvement process.

Standard work is critical for saving time and improving process efficiency. When cascaded through the organisation, it provides the opportunity for work processes – at all levels – to be scrutinised, compared and improved. Plus, it will help you sustain hard-fought gains by preventing the CI wheel from rolling back.


Download the how-to guide Leader standard work for executive leadership to learn more about leading your organisation to world-class success.

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