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How (and Why) to Standardize Leadership

Posted by Danielle Yoon

Dec 14, 2020 11:00:01 PM

leadershipWhile most people agree that process operations should be standardized as much as possible, the topic of standardizing leadership comes up less frequently. That's unfortunate because standardizing leadership is a crucial element of building a culture of improvement. It is the surest way to sustain improvement and build an organization with strong problem-solving muscles.

Benefits of Standardizing Leadership

Applying the principles of Standard Work to leadership requires a shift in mindset and a new way of working. Rather than merely reacting to the day's conditions, leaders commit to a set of daily activities and make these leadership tasks the top priority. This is a significant change in how most leaders work, but the benefits are substantial. Including:

Value is added to event-driven improvements: Most organizations see an immediate impact from improvements made following a Kaizen or rapid improvement event. Unfortunately, these gains are often temporary because without active management, processes tend to revert to the "old" way. With Leader Standard Work in place, however, these improvements receive consistent attention and review. The changes stick and become the new basis for improvement.

The focus is on processes, not people: The standardized leadership tasks are about observing and improving processes, not on performance evaluation. When the system of production (whether it's widgets, software, or good healthcare outcomes) is viewed as such, employees become more collaborative in problem-solving.

Communication is encouraged: As we'll discuss below, one of the critical elements of Leader Standard Work is the Gemba Walk. Taking the time to go to the place where work is done, show respect, and ask questions opens up communication lines, allowing problems to be identified quickly.


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Leadership Responsibilities

Whether you are a team leader, manager, director, or executive, there are a shared set of responsibilities for anyone using the Leader Standard Work approach. They include:

Ensuring that Standard Work is consistently applied: Whether you are managing frontline staff or other managers, the first goal of Leader Standard Work is making sure that every process you supervise is being done according to the standard. This requires frequent visual inspection and communications with process operators.

Finding the root cause of variation: Leader Standard Work is not a command-and-control exercise. Instead, it is a structure for continuous improvement. Suppose the Standard Work is not consistently applied. In that case, it is the leader's responsibility to find the root cause for the variation and work with the process operators to solve the underlying issue.

Coaching and mentoring staff: For a culture of improvement to thrive, leaders must have a plan for coaching and mentoring team members to help them build their skills to identify, analyze, and implement opportunities for improvement.

Strategy deployment. When leadership is standardized, it is much easier to bake strategy deployment into daily work. Aligning improvement initiatives, performance evaluation, and success metrics with the organization's overall goals must be a daily priority, not an annual afterthought.

What Can You Do to Implement Leader Standard Work Today?

If the benefits of standardizing leadership are appealing, and you are ready to commit to the associated responsibilities, you can immediately start with Leader Standard Work. Here are some things you can tackle today.

Make a list of leadership commitments: Begin by writing down the leadership activities that you are willing to do daily, or in some cases, weekly or monthly. Resolve that each day, if nothing else gets done, these tasks will be completed.

Ensure that every process in your purview has a standard: If Standard Work isn't already in place for the functions you manage, it is essential to deploy it right away. Standard Work should not be dictated but instead developed in close collaboration with the process operators. If you manage other leaders, your focus will be on their Leader Standard Work.

Implement visual tools: Adhering to a list of daily leadership tasks, especially if it is a new way of working, isn't easy. Visual management is the key to success. Fortunately, you can implement improvement management technology with boards, charts, and lists to ensure that you meet your obligations.

Visit the Gemba: Going to the place where work is done is the surest way to observe processes and monitor Standard Work. It also allows you the opportunity to show respect for people and to ask questions. Gemba walks should be a frequent element of your leadership commitments.


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Of course, not every leadership activity can be standardized. Still, by structuring your management approach, you can get more consistent results, free yourself for more strategic thinking, and solve problems before they become roadblocks.

Topics: Leadership, Improvement Culture, Spread Continuous Improvement, Improvement Process

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