In this review, editorial board member Peter Watkins, of GKN, pulls out some of the key learning’s from Robin Howlett’s article on leadership standard work.

Robin’s article explains the fundamentals of “why” leadership standard work can help us create a CI culture, and the associated problems this brings to a company in transition.

Using Mann’s four roles and Imai’s improvement flag, Robin explains the need for each level of the organisation to think differently about LSW and the amount of standardisation in leaders’ roles.

He talks about the need for stability: an organisation must have daily performance under control and leadership accountability and checking activities in place to achieve this. Daily performance management, in my opinion, is often mixed up with lean improvement activity too soon. It took Toyota many years to develop and mature their management system activities and the leadership behaviours to ensure both performance and improvement happen in harmony. So how can we expect to do this overnight?

However, LSW can be used for both performance and improvement as a method to help us organise our leadership activities, but in my opinion this needs to be applied strictly in the order shown below. The transition to a modern management system depends on how mature management’s lean behavioural standards are developed, lived and used to fulfil the company’s true purpose.

I strongly agree with Robin’s findings that the closer you are to the actual front line work activity the more you can standardise. The further you are from the front line activity the less you can standardise around supporting problem escalation and strategic innovation.

Perhaps we could look at leadership standard work differently as a principle that takes us towards a more modern management system. Most of us (including myself) find it difficult to make this transition (we put the work activity before the people activity), especially if we have a traditional organisational thinking around us pulling us back to traditional behaviours and thinking.

So if we can use LSW to organise ourselves successfully in order to become leaner leaders, Robin rightly asks the question: “What does good LSW look like?”

Rush out and copy someone? No – a key learning from Shigeo Shingo is that the best way to approach something is by being principle driven (thinking way) rather than blindly copying others’ approaches without any true understanding. So here is a suggestion we use in GKN with regards to the principles of leadership standard work and to integrate improvement into daily performance management, the purpose being to create a continuous improvement culture.

We need to invest time in people to create the right improvement culture. No matter how good your intentions, the transition to lean leadership doesn’t happen by magic. It requires hard work and a systematic approach. Robin states that LSW contains “effective drivers of behavioural change… This collection of repetitious behaviour by aligned tiers of leadership could result in extinguishing old habits within the organisation and replacing them with lean habits.” We learn new skills by repeating activities until they become embedded in our daily behaviours, so with this “way of thinking” in mind LSW is surely fundamental to become a lean leader.