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Standard Work is an Art. Yeah Right.

Standard work

“It’s a bit of an art, your work” I heard somebody say the other day. The setting was a podcast interview, the topic was SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, the bane of every business owner’s life. We get tens of emails every day explaining why our website does not rank high on Google and how SEO people can help you get to the top of the page. Sigh.

“Actually, it is more like dark art”, the interviewer went on to say. “Yes”, the SEO expert said breathlessly, basking in the glory of being a superhuman. And I thought: here we go again. Time for a Tui ad.

You’ve got the love the Tui ads. For my international audience, Tui Brewery in Mangatainoka has had a very effective marketing campaign for years in New Zealand where they call out bullsh*t on various topics. They’re usually one-liners that some folks actually say or think, but that are blindingly not true. The ‘Yeah right’ response means ‘No way!’. It’s quintessential Kiwi humour, part of our vocabulary. A couple of my favourites: “Let’s give the Aussies a turn with the cup” and “You won’t hear the wind turbines”.

So, let’s call bullsh*t on my title: Standard Work is an Art. Yeah right; no way!

The idea that the work you do is art is almost always preposterous. SEO, cheese-making, sales: this is not art. ‘Sunflowers’ or ‘Starry Night’ from my favourite artist Vincent van Gogh; that is art.

Instead of feeling superhuman that your skill level is considered, ahem, an ‘art’, you should feel ashamed for not making your knowledge and skills available to others. You are doing your business, your colleagues and yourself a disservice if you do not institutionalise your knowledge. Recording that tacit knowledge for the benefit of others is the practice we call Standard Work. ​With Standard Work, we follow the​ Deming dictum: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Search Engine Optimisation is about exploiting the rules. Cheese-making is understanding the science behind the process. Sales is a process of engaging your client so she decides that your business can fulfil her unique needs. Yes, you need to be talented and skilled to be successful in these tasks, but it’s not art.

Standard Work is a source of sustained competitive advantage, not a chore dreamed up by the faceless grey ISO9000 people. Standard Work creates stability and a platform to improve from and it de-risks your operations. At your business, have you applied the Steven Spear and Kent Bowen rule: “All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome”? Do your workers increase the risk profile of your business by hoarding knowledge? Have you created an environment for your people where sharing knowledge is easy, and expected? Do you judge your people by how much they share, not by how much they know?

I’m interested in your feedback. Let me also know in the comments what your favourite Tui ads are, or maybe your favourite Van Gogh painting. Mine is ‘Café terrace at night.’

About the author: Geerten Lengkeek is the Managing Director of Productivity People