Bad Employees or Bad Leader?


Question for the blog readers:

A person working in a lean effort complains “My employees won't follow the standard work.”

Bad leader, bad employees, or both?

Your thoughts?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Or option C: Bad process for developing the standard work.

    It depends and that’s not enough to find out about this particular person, because it could be any or all of those. But in my experience, the bad process for how to engage employees and leadership in the process of developing standard work and generating high agreement is most directly to blame.

  2. Well since there is not really a right answer here due to not enough data let me stir the pot a little and vote for BAD LEADER!

    Part of leading people is gaining commitment and ensuring the employees are involved and part of the change. When this happens, more often than not, the initiative will work.

    Some employees are concrete heads and if this is indeed the case and they have been given ample chance to change and they don’t – well then they gotta move to Burger King where they will do it their way.

  3. I’ll agree with Ron.

    My method for Standard Work implementation

    1. Involve the employees in the creation of SPs
    2. Give them a chance to change
    3. Eliminate the a**holes.

    Sometimes 3 comes before 1 if the a**hole is a leader :-)

  4. I’ll go with bad process. Has the leader actually done the job themselves following the standard work? Can Takt time and SWIP be met by following the standard work? Is the job more difficult doing it by “the standard work”? Was it developed with the people as the highest priority?

    I never settle with concrete head conclusion. Anyone who stops there has not asked “why, why, why, why, why” enough. Someone refusing to do the standard work is “a problem” and deserves a thorough problem solving process. Problems involving people are the most important problems. Sending them to flip burgers means YOU failed.

    Another common problem is lack of effective training. Too often, people call “I told them how to do it” training. That is not training. Proper training involves 1) a plan for training (not a monday morning switcharoo) that allows sufficient time and notice, 2) a thorough breakdown of the job that separates the steps from the key points and reasons why, 3) a workplace that supports the work (properly arranged with all materials ready), and 4)a one-on-one training process where the trainer and trainee work together to go throught the job step by step a few times to make sure the person understands, has opportunity for questions, and has a “taper off” plan that provides support but not micromanaging.

    Most companies don’t do this, and they wonder why standard work doesn’t work. Toyota has been doing this every day for the last 55 years. It’s a key reason why they are so successful with standard work.

    My advice: Learn about Training Within Industry (TWI)

    The training I described above is Job Instruction. Toyota uses the original WWII version, unchanged from 1941.

    The “people problem solving” need is addressed (in part) by Job Relations. It is PDCA for people, but should be included in a larger effort that elimintes root cause, which is usually not the people.

    Job Methods helps make the correct way the easiest way because it forces you to make a simple but thorough breakdown of the job and question every detail.

  5. This is just where I am at right now! The employees don’t want to write or follow the work instructions and I don’t feel it is right to force them. It has to be that there is something missing in the training, or I am not communicating which ones are priority so they don’t get overwhelmed. It could also be that they are “waiting me out” to see if I will change priorities, as one employee mentioned she was doing. Is it better to have them write work instructions for hundreds of processes in one short amount of time, or to be ok with it taking years? I don’t want them to have them for the sake of having them, I want to use them to develop metrics so they can chart their progress on our lean journey. The challenge on this journey for me has been about how to get people on board and inspired on a daily basis since they view it as added work, not as a process to take away unecessary work.

    Thanks for “listening” to me try to sort this out!

  6. Michelle — thanks for sharing your situation, you’re not alone.

    You’re absolutely right to not do standard work documentation for the sake of standard work. Think back to “why” you are doing standard work. Communicate this to your employees. “to track their progress on the lean journey” — what does that mean? Which metrics, specifically?

    Standard work should be done to ensure/improve safety, quality, productivity, and cost.

    If you can’t get your employees on board with that idea, there are bigger problems than lack of lean.

    I think you’re a little off track in thinking the goal is to write “hundreds” of SW documents. Standard Work is an ongoing process. You have to manage to Standard Work and use it to drive improvement.

    I’d suggest starting small, in one area. Have the team document the standard work and start managing to it. Have a process in place for improving the standard work (kaizen).

    Check out David Mann’s Creating a Lean Culture or the Toyota Way Fieldbook… or check out the Training Within Industry materials that are out there.

  7. Thanks for the reply! The reason that there would be hundreds of work instructions is that we are basically a large job shop. We build to order here and I can’t figure out a way to streamline the number necessary. I’m ok with it taking a while since it is quite a job.

    The metrics we are wanting are the ones you listed above. I would be thrilled to get any of them into place right now because I think it will help to keep the employees motivated when they realize how far they have come. 5S changes are easy to see and get excited about, but I don’t think they have as easy of a time realizing how much their production and quality have increased even in this past year.

    I did order the Toyota Way Fieldbook just a few days ago. Thank you for the recommendations and the feedback!

  8. I view this as a manifestation of a poor leader. The poor leadership may have many different causes, of which the largest would be lack of LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT.

    What I have found is most managers/leaders have no idea of how to manage in a lean/TPS environment. Yes, we say manage to standard work, but do most of the leaders understand Standard Work, what it is, how to apply it or manage to it? My guess is no, most go back to their comfort level. My two bits!

  9. I love it how the shortest posts generate the most comments.

    That’s an excellent point, looking at the “root cause” of bad leadership. Lack of training, lack of an overall management system to work within, etc.

  10. Obviously Bad System. It has already been mentioned that employees need to help develop Standard Work. They now need to be asked what can be done so they can follow the Standard Work, have them hel improve the situation.

  11. Man Mark! I write a novel over on my little blog and get 2 or 3 comments and you write a sentence and get pummeled. Well done! There is a lesson here… hmmmm.



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