Standard work for leaders

My first attempt at standard work was in 2008, long before my lean days. I had just been promoted to Dealer Principal of a Toyota franchise, after my boss suddenly had to leave for a medical emergency.

There was a short handover that included a colorful spreadsheet that was supposed to tell me everything I needed to know. After some time grappling with the spreadsheet, I went to the Financial Manager and confided in her that it made no sense to me whatsoever and that I was concerned I did not have the required skills for the job.

She said that she would look at it and see if she could explain it to me. Later in the day, she got back to me and told me that the reason it did not make sense to me was because it did not make sense. The formulas were totaling the wrong columns and did not match what the Dealer Management system was communicating. This was why I could not reconcile my understanding to what it was saying.

What a relief, and what a powerful reminder that honesty is the best policy! That day, I learned that just because something looks the part does not mean that it is. If you don’t understand something, ask. The spreadsheet looked very professional – it had complex formulas and was beautifully color coded – but it was useless. I had been told that this document was the Holy Grail of the position, but I found it to be as naked as the emperor in the children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes.

I then realized that if I wanted to cope in my new position, I’d have to start from scratch to learn about the work that had to be done.

I started with the reporting system, as at that time it was the only place I could see. First, I went to see my Financial Manager again, asking her what reports are key to my position. She gave me the key reports and went through them with me to guide me through what she was seeing. I then went to the Managing Director, the Parts Manager and the Service Centre Manager and asked the same questions. At the end of this process, I had a list of reports that I sifted until I had a clear idea of the vital reports. I did the same with the Toyota system, identifying the requirements and the programs that were running. I then set this into daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.