A Structured Approach to Personal Development – Part 2: Leader Standard Work

Setting the Stage

“There just isn’t enough time in the day.”

How many times have we heard that sentiment from others or felt it ourselves in our work as leaders? As the pace of change and the type of work we do expands and evolves, we’re naturals at adding more to our plates, but often struggle to delegate or let go of tasks.

Is there a rational way to continuously reallocate our time and make certain we’re doing the most important things at the right time? It’s essential to answer this question if we’re going to create enough “white space” in our calendars to work on ourselves through our personal development plan.

When I first began my Lean journey, this new way of working was time consuming amongst an already packed calendar. This is the point at which many leaders abandon the idea that investing time and tools can actually make them more productive and focused on the most important things. All they see is another set of tasks.

Before we could present an innovative approach to LSW to all leaders, we started executives with a target of how many hours we wanted to spend on Lean activities.

The chart that follows lists our desired executive standard work (ESW) to devote to Lean activities, the assumption being the long-term returns will be worth the investment and are more important than some current work.

Time Reflection

In order to identify the gap between where we were and where we wanted to be, we first needed to identify where we were actually spending our time. Toward this end, each executive tracked their time usage by work type (projects, meetings, email, etc.) and developed a bar chart of our “time buckets” that looked something like this:

Time Bucket

My two largest categories were, unsurprisingly, email and meetings. The average frequency of meetings was lower than email sessions, while the average duration of meetings was longer than concentrated time spent on emails. The obvious question, therefore, was, “Can we move time from email and meetings to Lean work?”

Next, we analyzed opportunities to reduce some of our existing time allocation. Some of the items we explored included:

  • Using an A3 process to identify and develop time saving efforts
  • Analyze meetings and apply a “DDD” (Drop It, Delegate It, Do It Better) approach
  • Creating a weekly, quarterly and annual ESW template
  • Experiment with standard email protocols

Having determined, for instance, that about 30% of my time was spent in general meetings, I needed to dig into the data to identify potential time-saving opportunities by using an A3 process. We undertook various efforts to “work on our work,” including:

  • We knew that executive leaders spent significant time attending meetings with other executives as well. Could we reduce the number of meetings we collectively attended by sending just one representative to participate? They could then give the other executives a brief recap at our weekly executive team meetings.
  • For our executive team meetings, we adopted very well-defined agendas that focused largely on Lean work — reducing our meeting times by an average of 1.5 hours per week. That may not sound like much, but over the course of a year that’s more than 600 hours of executive time better spent on Lean improvement activities and events full of value.

Are You Controlling Your Work, or is it Controlling You?

  1. You owe it to yourself, your employees and customers to mindfully control your work and utilize available data or resources to drive your most important activities. You’ll never create more “white space” in your calendar to use for greater value without first fully understanding your current work.
  2. Gather data and use it to hold yourself accountable. Make it visual to better measure the progress made on both your tasks and behaviors.
  3. Belief and behavior go hand in hand. People will do extraordinary things for a deep belief that they likely wouldn’t for a job or leader, even if they like their job or leader.
  4. The glory of applying Lean principles and tools to leader standard work is in the effort. The first step is the hardest part and it may not feel satisfying or feel productive right away. But the more you work on it, the more you will discover the benefits.

Think of a large, complicated and intricately detailed tile mosaic. Individually the pieces don’t seem like much, but as each tile is placed the grander picture comes more into focus and changes how you see the entire project with new context.

Personal development plans, and the leader standard work behind them, are obviously passions of mine that have been continuously developed over the course of my career. If you’d like to discuss either further, or what maybe you could be doing differently in your personal development or Lean journey, please contact me at randall@beyondbenchmarksllc.com.