Successful Workplace

Standard WorkHow often do we think about the way we usually operate at work? Whether we’re performing an informal five-step process for evaluating a new proposal, or setting priorities for managing our time, how often do we think about consistency and efficiency? Our ability to improve the ways we do things depends on defining and shaping our daily habits of mind and practice — our “standard work.”

Consider the experience of my friend Lynn Kelley, who joined Union Pacific Railroad, the largest railroad network in the United States with 46,000 employees, as vice president of continuous improvement about two years ago. When she arrived, she learned that a large proportion of the workforce would retire over the next decade. So the organization started documenting standard operating procedures to capture employee know-how and wisdom. She told me, “I initially thought standard work would make people into robots. Instead we learned…

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