Building Leadership Discipline with a little help from Leader Standard Work

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.”

– Abraham Lincoln  

The leader’s role in any organization centers around achieving results through the people they lead.  Results such as safety, quality, cost, and delivery are sometimes required immediately and are often the most talked about.  Results like process improvement, workplace organization, employee capability and development, and employee engagement are often considered long-term.  Balancing immediacy with long-term change is, to put it mildly, a big job.  If we are honest with ourselves, the easier path is to focus on the immediate, which is why it is so difficult to create traction for continuous improvement activities.

In order to strike that balance, leaders must develop internal discipline habits (Leader Standard Work) to interact with people and processes with intention and scheduled frequency to address the immediate and the long-term.

If we were to watch this interaction, we would see:

  • Checking on results and the processes measured against objective performance standards
    • Department/area performance met or not met
    • Exceptions recorded; countermeasures planned
    • Working on closing observed gaps in results and gaps in desired behaviors
      • Accept escalated items
  • Observing and coaching behaviors against a standard expectation
    • Safety observations/audit complete
    • 5S audits and checklists complete
    • Standard work audits complete
    • SQDC board meetings held
    • Improvement ideas documented and moving forward
    • LSW targets met or unmet

Frequent interaction with floor leads and shop floor personnel allows the leader to convey (and model) expected behaviors to those they lead, see if those behaviors are being practiced, and represents a coaching/reinforcement opportunity to develop people.

“Where there is no standard, there can be no Kaizen.” – Taiichi Ohno

It is very important to revisit what outcomes are important for the organization in advance of creating Leader Standard Work (LSW).  It will be of no use if we ask for behaviors that are never looked for or emphasized. With that said, LSW can, as a tool or checklist, can help with developing good leadership discipline. It also conveys what is truly important to the organization and is intended to provide a script to remind leaders at all levels what behaviors (work) is required to be successful. The activities outlined are intended to help the organization achieve its goals, such as improved output, improved quality, safer operations, etc.

Any LSW document should be agreed upon by its owner and the owner’s leader.  In some ways, it is a contract between the leader and their superior.  Furthermore, the more-senior leader should always audit their subordinates’ LSW in their own LSW.  Agreed-upon methods to achieve agreed-upon results is the essence of the layered approach to LSW.

Finally, it is important to remind ourselves that standards, in addition to giving us something to shoot for, provide us with another useful bit of information.  That is, when standards (behaviors) are not met, we can work on the reasons why.

Standards tell us at least two things: they point out success, and they point out when we miss.  When we miss, Kaizen is possible!

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