How To Build A Lean Culture: Using Leader Standard Work - GoLeanSixSigma.com

So your organization is embarking on a Lean Journey. Congratulations! The Lean journey can be transformational and exciting for an organization. It can also be daunting and frustrating too. How do leaders figure out how to transform the people, the processes and the performance of an organization?

Hopefully, leaders consider how they should change too, by asking, “What should I do to be a better Lean Leader?” The good news is there are tried and true practices used by many leaders for building a Lean culture. This set of Lean Leader best practices is called Leader Standard Work.

The answer to the question, “What should I do to be a better Lean Leader?” is this: Put Leader Standard Work into practice.

What Is Leader Standard Work?

Leader Standard Work is a set of

  • Actions
  • Tools
  • Behaviors

…incorporated into the daily work of leaders. Leaders include all levels of formal leadership in an organization:

  • Supervisors
  • Managers
  • Directors

Lean transformational change starts with leadership.

Each management level is involved in varying degrees. These practices encourage and promote Lean Culture characteristics within organizations.

From Lean, most of us already know that Standard Work is the documented and current best way to do a certain task, procedure or process. Leader Standard Work follows this same idea. It is some of the proven Leader best practices to drive Lean thinking and behaving throughout an organization. Surprise!

Lean transformational change starts with leadership.

Where Did Leader Standard Work Come From?

Leader Standard Work is a relatively new term. Toyota started Lean in the 1940’s, but the term Leader Standard Work has been circulating for under 10 years. Toyota does not call their management practices Leader Standard Work. There is no name for what their managers do. It’s just the Toyota Way.

What “tour-ists” missed were the management practices that Toyota Leaders were modeling to promote a Lean environment.

Thousands of people have toured Toyota facilities with eagerness to learn the trade secrets of implementing Lean. But early on, many of these Toyota “tour-ists” focused primarily on tools and how they were implemented. Tools like kanban, continuous flow, and heijunka, to name a few.

What “tour-ists” missed were the management practices that Toyota Leaders were modeling to promote a Lean environment. These practices which build the problem-solving muscle include:

  • Huddle Meetings
  • Leader Process Walks and
  • Coaching employees to be problem-solvers

It wasn’t until these Lean tools were implemented by organizations with mediocre success that people came to realize that Lean wasn’t just about the tools. There is more to Lean culture than just training employees on Lean.

Benefits: What Will Leader Standard Work Practices Improve?

Here Are Three Benefits To Leader Standard Work:

1. Leader Standard Work enhances “event-driven” process improvement. Many organizations start by doing “event-driven” process improvement. This means that process improvement happens when it’s scheduled as a Process Walk or Rapid Improvement Event. Although these events are extremely important in delivering results, what often happens is that employees don’t improve processes beyond these scheduled events. If it were a truly Lean culture, process improvement becomes a mindset… the way employees think where process improvement happens incrementally and/or daily.

If it were a truly Lean culture, process improvement becomes a mindset…

2. Leader Standard Work promotes process focus instead of people-focus. Edward Deming said that 94% of the problems are related to the system (or process) 6% are special (related to people). But in reality, 94% of the time, people get blamed for problems, not systems or process. When an organization is focused on searching for the guilty with high blame in the organization, it’s difficult for employees to raise their hand to admit problems and embrace process improvement. Leader Standard Work helps organizations elevate focus on process problems, which can help reduce blame and enhance process improvement efforts.

3. Leader Standard Work encourages communication and collaboration to fix process problems. Once process focus is elevated, employees feel safer about making problems visible. Employees are less guarded and can have constructive conversations around process issues without feeling like the finger pointing will start.

…it does involve changing Leader behavior before asking employees to think with a problem-solving mindset.

Leader Standard Work can seem daunting at first, and it does involve changing Leader behavior before asking employees to think with a problem-solving mindset. It helps to have a committed and dedicated Senior Management team. On the plus side, these new behaviors, actions and tools can help transform an organization’s culture into a Lean culture.

Do you have questions about how Leader Standard Work can help you? Please ask by commenting below!

Do you want to learn more? Register for Lean Training & Certification today and understand how to apply Leader Standard Work!

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. For almost 20 years, she's helped leading organizations like Washington State, Cisco and GE build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.