I was fortunate last week to join the Lean Enterprise Institute for a gemba walks class at TaylorMade Golf. While they will be the first to admit that they have a long way to go before they can be considered a lean organization, I was struck by the emphasis placed on standard work. TaylorMade’s business is highly seasonal, which means that each year they have to hire—and train—large numbers of new workers. (Volume from the low season to high season increases about 800%.) Getting these workers up to speed to receive and handle materials, not to mention assemble clubs, is a formidable challenge for the company.

That’s where the standard work comes in. With the standard work, team leaders and supervisors are able to train new hires more quickly, and they’re able to objectively and fairly assess how the new workers are doing in relation to the agreed-upon standard. This assessment allows the TaylorMade to determine whether to keep a new employee, promote them to another role, or to let them go.

Of course, many companies understand the value of standard work for front-line employees on the shop floor. But consider the benefits at the managerial or executive level. What would happen if there was standard work for new managers, VPs, and C-suite employees? What if they had a regular cadence of work that brought them to the front lines to observe and coach employees? What if they had a structured and defined management method that they were expected to follow in your company?

Having lived through more than my fair share of poor hires, bad fits, and cultural mismatches, I believe that they could have been largely avoided if we had had standard work for leaders. Standard work is no guarantee of a perfect hire, of course. But even if we did hire poorly, I know for sure that the mismatch would have been spotted earlier, and the person replaced, more promptly, with a better fit. What’s your way of assessing performance? How do you know (before the annual performance review) if an employee is panning out?

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