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A Dirty Rug Reminds Me Why Employees Love Standard Work

Posted by Jeff Roussel

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Jul 22, 2016 7:30:00 AM

patio_rug.jpgThis summer I got a new outdoor rug for my patio. A couple of days ago, I noticed that my cleanup approach of sweeping wasn’t really cutting it. So, I vacuumed it. What a difference! It looked much better.

When my wife came out later, I pointed out my accomplishment. Her response? “Meh. It doesn’t look that different to me.” She’s not the type to notice a dirty rug, so she didn’t have anything against which to judge its current pristine state. There was no standard in her mind, so my improvement did not impress.

Of course, I don’t work for my wife and I’m delighted by my clean rug whether she cares about it or not, but what if I had made a similar improvement at work? What if I came up with a better way of doing something but no one noticed because they weren’t really aware of the prior state? I suspect that would make me less likely to share my ideas, and certainly less enthusiastic about suggesting changes.


Incentive to Improve

When we talk to organizations about their continuous improvement efforts, Standard Work is something that comes up quite often. It isn’t unusual for leaders to be reluctant to introduce the approach because they are afraid that employees will see it as limiting or punitive. They fear that setting standards signals that people should work by rote and simply “follow orders.”

If those are the results you get from implementing Standard Work, you are doing it wrong.

When properly introduced and executed, the Standard Work approach is embraced by employees. They see it as an opportunity, not a threat. Here’s why.

Improvement Can’t Be Acknowledged Without a Standard

Just as I learned during my conversation with my wife about the rug, if you don’t notice that something’s broken, you can’t acknowledge that it has been fixed.  A Standard gives everyone a clear picture of the current state. Everyone knows what is being done and which results are being produced. When employees are (as they should be) involved in creating the standard, they have a way to document what their experience looks like today. Only once that is established, can ideas for improvement be analyzed, enacted, and measured.

Before and After

Smart leaders are careful to point out that Standard Work is an improvement tool, not a “keep things exactly how they are today” tool.

When employees understand that the standard is there as a benchmark, a snapshot of the way things are today, that is created for the express purpose of inviting, assessing, and acknowledging improvement, they love the idea and will invest in both the creation of the Standard and any PDSA cycles the follow it. Of course, it is important for managers and executive leaders to recognize and reward employees who work to improve on the standard.

I wish I had before and after photos of my rug. It wouldn't change much, but I think it might help my argument that we need to invest in a Dyson.


Topics: Lean

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