Scut Work Matters


Basic maintenance (or as my wife calls it, "scut work") matters. Especially for senior leadership. 

Not because the 10% of the time that senior leadership spends on maintenance makes a significant difference in preventing breakdowns or keeping the company operating smoothly. But because it has enormous impact on how well, and how often, everyone else in the organization does maintenance. 

In Gemba Kaizen, Masaaki Imai suggests that most of top management's time should be spent on innovation and kaizen, with just a small percentage of time devoted to basic maintenance, as he shows in this chart:

In my experience, most leadership teams ignore the area in red: to the extent that they even think about the need for maintenance, they assume that since it occupies such a small percentage of their time, it's unimportant. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth. You could even argue that it's the most important portion of their time. 

As I've written about before, effective coaching requires that leaders both go to the workplace ("go see") as well as participate in the work that they're asking people to do. That doesn't mean that the VP of Engineering has to clean and oil the machines everyday, or that the CFO should organize client files every morning, but they should at least join in once every month or two. Participation in this kind of scut work doesn't just demonstrate "servant leadership." It also sends a powerful signal to employees that this work is important. If senior leadership can do it, then surely it's important enough for everyone else to do it as well.

Want to see what this looks like? Check out Paul Akers, the president of FastCap, on his hands and knees. . . cleaning the company toilet. My hunch is that if more CEOs did this, we wouldn't need 5S audits. And, of course, there wouldn't be a need for Undercover Boss

Maintenance may only be 10% of your time, but don't ignore it. Otherwise, everyone else will, too.

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