In today’s highly unstable economy, effective leadership is more important than ever for business success. As a management professional, you’re more than likely aware that the role of the leader extends beyond mere decision-making.
It involves a whole set of responsibilities, including setting organizational goals, guiding and managing others, fostering a positive and productive culture, and ensuring that the team operates seamlessly.
Needless to say, it’s a complex and sometimes very stressful job that often requires putting out fires on a daily basis. And it can be doubly difficult and stressful when a manager is not particularly experienced or simply lacks management structure.
The good news is, that there is a way that every leader, no matter their industry or experience, can ensure their employees perform to the best of their abilities at all times and, therefore, make their own and their team’s lives easier and more productive. The approach’s name? Leader standard work (LSW).
At its core, standard work is a set of routines or practices that leaders follow consistently in order to standardize their work and the work of their employees. It’s one of the basic concepts of lean management, which is centered around optimizing processes, a.k.a. maximizing customer value while reducing waste or costs.
In LSW, the routines are designed to ensure that leaders and their employees are engaged in activities that align with organizational goals. Essentially, it is a structured approach to leadership that brings about discipline and focus for everyone involved, meaning both the leader and the team.
When a leader adheres to standard work, they create a foundation for stability and continuous improvement within the organization. The purpose of LSW is to standardize daily activities in order to improve performance and efficiency across the entire organization.
Standard work is not a one-size-fits-all concept. On the contrary, this is an adaptable approach to work that can be adapted to different leadership styles and organizational needs. However, there are foundational elements that remain constant no matter the industry or type of leader.
Gemba walks or daily checks form the bedrock of LSW. Mind you, these are not simple strolls through the workspace but purposeful engagements at the ground level, or at the actual place of work.
Leaders, during gemba walks, immerse themselves in the daily operations, interacting with frontline employees, and gaining firsthand insights into the challenges and opportunities within the organization. It's a proactive approach that goes beyond traditional management practices, as it emphasizes a deep understanding of the operational reality of an organization.
Any leader who wants to improve their workflows and efficiency should conduct regular gemba walks.
In the world of leadership, effective communication is paramount. Structured and regular meetings, a key element of LSW, provide a structured platform for interaction where every team member is given the opportunity to express themselves.
These brief, regular meetings, which can be group or one-on-one meetings, create a space for team members to share updates, discuss challenges, and align on goals. The synergy cultivated in these huddles promotes unity and ensures everyone is on the same page. It’s a great way to enhance communication and strengthen team dynamics.
Vision is important, but without execution, it’s ultimately just a daydream. This is why leader standard work is big on strategic planning sessions: they’re key to ensuring alignment with organizational goals.
These sessions go beyond day-to-day operations, providing a platform for leaders to discuss long-term objectives, assess market dynamics, and chart a course for the future. By integrating strategic planning into their standard work, leaders lay the foundation for sustainable growth and adaptability, two things that matter greatly in today's rapidly evolving business landscape.
When it comes to effective decision-making, data is king. This is why regular analysis of performance indicators is a fundamental element of leader standard work. Leaders delve into a variety of key performance indicators, including KPIs, KFIs, KKIs, and KBIs, assessing the health of various processes and the overall performance of the team.
This data-driven approach ensures that decisions are not based on intuition alone but grounded in a comprehensive understanding of the organization's performance. By focusing on the metrics obtained through performance indicators, leaders can steer the ship with precision and change direction if necessary.
By embracing regular Gemba walks, having structured meetings, and analyzing performance indicators on a regular basis, leaders can maximize team performance and foster organizational excellence. Remember, this isn't about micro-management; it's about staying connected and informed with your employees as well as superiors.
Now that you know the fundamentals of leader standard work, let’s talk about its benefits so you can decide for yourself if this is the methodology you want to use in your own work.
Communication is the lifeblood of any organization. Leader standard work helps enhance communication by creating regular touchpoints between leaders and team members. Whether through daily huddles or strategic planning sessions, these interactions foster a culture of openness and collaboration, which is important for all employees. This way, team members feel heard and valued, which leads to increased engagement and productivity.
To be a great leader, you need to have good decision-making skills. LSW helps here, as well, as it ensures that leaders are well-informed through direct engagement with operational processes and through data obtained from performance metrics. This firsthand knowledge enables leaders to make decisions that are not only strategic but also grounded in the realities of day-to-day operations.
In the realm of management, accountability is non-negotiable. LSW creates a framework for accountability by clearly defining the expectations of leaders. When there's a standard set of practices, it becomes easier to assess performance and identify areas for improvement. Accountability, in this context, is not about blame but about continuous improvement.
Continuous improvement is the cornerstone of success in any organization, and standard work plays a pivotal role in ingraining this mindset. When leaders consistently engage in activities that support improvement, such as analyzing performance metrics on a regular basis and making changes when necessary, it sets a precedent for the entire team. This culture of continuous improvement becomes a collective effort, driving the organization towards excellence.
By now, you’re probably convinced that LSW has a ton of benefits, but most importantly, that it can help leaders become better in their roles. So, how do you go about implementing standard work effectively? In addition to regular Gemba walks, structured meetings, and analyzing performance metrics on a regular basis, make sure you do the two following things.
While there are foundational elements, the beauty of leader standard work lies in its adaptability. Each organization is unique, and so is its leadership style. Customizing LSW to fit the specific needs and culture of your organization is essential. To do this, consider the nature of your industry, the size of your team, and the challenges you face.
For example, if you’re high up in seniority, you may need to apply only a couple of LSW principles to your work in order to reap the benefits. This is because, usually, leaders near the top typically have a lot of ad hoc tasks, making them unable to standardize their practices as much as those with lower levels of experience. Therefore, tailoring standard work to your and your organization’s specific needs is essential: take what works for you best and discard the rest.
Leadership is not merely a position; ultimately, it’s an action. Effective leaders understand the importance of leading by example or practicing behavior they want to see in others. If your leader's standard work includes regular communication with team members, be consistent in your approach.
If gemba walks are part of your routine, make them meaningful by actively engaging with the operational aspects. When leaders adhere to their standard work, it creates a ripple effect throughout the organization.
Sometimes, you can do everything right – implement the right principles, lead by example, and communicate clearly and regularly with your team – and still feel like you’ve failed in your desire to become a better leader. If you’ve experienced this, don’t give up; there’s always a way to make LSW work for you.
Change can sometimes be met with resistance, and implementing LSW is no exception. Some team members may perceive it as additional bureaucracy or needless meetings. That’s why communication about the purpose and benefits of LSW is crucial. When the team understands that it's a tool for improvement rather than a mechanism for control, resistance tends to diminish.
In a fast-paced work environment, time is a precious commodity. It’s not uncommon for leaders to feel overwhelmed by existing responsibilities, making it challenging to adopt new practices. It's essential to emphasize that LSW is an investment, not an additional burden.
Over time, the benefits in terms of streamlined processes and improved outcomes outweigh the initial time investment.
Leader standard work is not a mere set of business rules; it is a philosophy that shapes leadership practices. By embracing the principles of LSW, management professionals can elevate their effectiveness and contribute significantly to organizational success.
Ultimately, LSW is about creating a structured yet adaptable framework that fosters accountability, continuous improvement, and a culture of excellence.