IN challenging times such as these, good leadership is the key to maintaining the health of an organization.

Good leaders ensure that their people are energized, inspired and focused on the tasks that deliver true customer value. But creating this space for growth and innovation is only possible when there is a structure in place that keeps processes humming along efficiently and ensures that the focus is firmly on forward thinking rather than firefighting.

Lean practitioners regularly extol the virtues of leader standard work (LSW) and rightly so: this process of ensuring that standard work practices are in place and consistently followed is a fundamental driver of leadership success. Adherence to LSW practices will eliminate wasteful activities and create a sense of ownership and empowerment across all levels of an organization.

Though some leaders may resist the idea of implementing LSW, arguing that every day is different and that standardization may hinder their ability to resolve a crisis, it is precisely this emphasis on standardization that prevents crises from recurring. LSW is the cornerstone of a thriving lean culture, and the key to embedding a problem-solving mindset in the DNA of the organization.

Empowerment is the driving force of LSW

LSW is not just about results, it’s about focusing on the processes involved in achieving the result. The key here is changing leadership behaviour – leaders need to move away from issuing directives and actively solving problems to building teams that are empowered to solve problems for themselves. In this scenario, the leader becomes a coach or guide, employing LSW to make a tangible difference in the organization, rather than viewing it as a ‘tick the box’ exercise.

Fundamental questions leaders need to ask themselves include:

  • What is the standard?
  • How can I identify the standard visually?
  • How can I tell if we are meeting the standard?
  • If we aren’t meeting the standard, what can we do about it?

Executive leaders should have a standard process in use for strategy development, goal setting, financial controls and reporting. This focus on process enables the behavior of solving problems as they become visible, so that leaders at all levels become problem-solvers instead of problem-avoiders.

 LSW in the digital age

The rapidly changing business landscape has necessitated a shift in how we approach LSW. Traditional LSW is giving way to digital LSW, which brings with it a myriad of opportunities for improvement. Digital leader standard work allows leaders to compile and analyze data faster than ever before resulting in swift and effective decision-making.

When LSW operates on a digital platform, it allows for greater operational flexibility and faster information flows. This rapid feedback gives leaders the valuable insight they need to make decisions about resource allocation and strategy. It also allows them to dedicate time to more useful pursuits such as capability development and high-level problem-solving.

Technological change notwithstanding, LSW is a living process that requires continual scrutiny and improvement to reflect the current state.

5 steps to LSW success

For standard work to take root in your organization, it requires a profound shift in organizational mindset. Leaders need to catalyze the required culture change by modeling the right behaviours.

Here are five key steps to help you drive LSW success in your organization:

  1. Make standard work visual on the production floor

Digital visual management is starting to replace traditional white boards and paper-based, documentation on the shop floor. This makes critical information visible in real time and gives all employees the opportunity to act quickly in the event of a malfunction.

  1. Take a structured approach to problem-solving

A structured problem-solving approach will help your people rapidly uncover the root cause of a problem and make finding solutions an automatic practice. Remember though, successful problem-solving is less about the methodology you use, and more about developing the skills required to apply problem-solving techniques consistently.

  1. 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, or office environment. It gives executives a deeper understanding of the successes and challenges employees face and is an opportunity to guide problem-solving and corrective actions. New technologies are changing the way gemba walks are conducted: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) furnish leaders with performance and manpower data superimposed on a real-time view of production; this offers a better perspective of the state of production and personnel.

  1. Coach and mentor 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. Not only does this save time, it helps you create an autonomous and empowered workforce. Remember also that your people might be better positioned to offer solutions to problems as they are closer to the work and have a richer understanding of it.

  1. Create a fault-tolerant environment

As an executive leader, you need to empower your employees to uncover and resolve problems independently. Make it clear that ‘problem-finding’ is not about apportioning blame, but rather about actively seeking out opportunities to improve.

Leveraging LSW to drive competitive advantage

Standard work is critical for saving time and improving process efficiency. When cascaded through the organization, it provides the opportunity for work processes — at all levels — to be scrutinized, compared and improved. Fortunately, there are several new technologies that can assist leaders in their efforts to standardize their own tasks and provide the requisite support to employees. This creates the time and opportunity to build a thriving innovation culture that delivers sustainable competitive advantage.

Find out how the TRACC Leader Standard Work App can help you standardize leadership tasks at all levels and drive customer value through improved business performance

By Glenn Leask, President and CEO, CCi