Reactions to Standardized Work


Food for thought: When working with the concept (or practice) of Standardized Work in my lean experience, it's always been in context of a workplace that was already up and running and had, to some extent, “gotten along fine” without formal Standardized Work.

I've seen five standard types of responses from front-line employees when the topic comes up. This is even true in environments where front-line employees were writing the SW documents. These are the typical first reactions when you show a draft to someone hadn't yet participated in (you're asking them to review it and give input):

  • Questioning -“Why do I have to do it this way?
  • Cooperation -“OK, show me the new way.” (and follows it)
  • Resistance -“I don't want to do it this way.”
  • Disdain -“You idiots, this new way is stupid.”
  • Passive Aggressiveness -“Ok I'll do it.” (proceeds to not do it and badmouths it to the others)

Each of the types of reactions has its downside. Some downsides are obvious, but the “Cooperator,” one who just accepts the SW and proceeds to do it as written, isn't thinking and isn't contributing their ideas. That's a type of waste.

That's why I'd rather have a “Questioning” response from each employee, a constructive response that properly challenges things and comes up with new ideas or better ways of doing things.

I think the worst response is “Passive Aggressiveness.” At least the “Disdainer” tells you where you stand in their eyes and you can work through it accordingly. I'd argue that the “Passive Aggressive” is the worst response of them all.

Thoughts? What do you see from your experience with Standardized Work?

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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. I’d add one more: “It’s about time…how can I help?”. This is the most desirable in my opinion. This person has hoped someone would start to care about how they do their work, and is glad to get involved as an advocate…thinking and doing. They appreciate the resources that an organized standard work effort brings, and they are eagar to put their name on it.

    We use TWI Job Instruction as our approach to beginning standard work. The fact that it provides useful, personal training really helps cultivate this response. People see it as an investment in them, and they really appreciate that.

    I would agree that the passive aggressive is by far the worst. I always encourage the critics to speakup. As you mention, then you can address their concerns, and perhaps make them into a supporter. The passive aggressive person just blows sunshine at you, then blows off the whole effort. This is especially bad if this is a manager, who communicates their position with a wink-wink-knod-knod to their people, resulting in a passive aggressive department that can be a serious anchor dragger.

    However, TWI is a great way to confront this head on…it’s nice to have a classroom setting where a good facilitator can detect some body language that indicates a passive aggressor, and encourage them to speak their mind. I always declare Las Vegas rules in my classes and stay true to that no matter what. You can prevent a lot of problems using this approach…

  2. Seems to me that the most obvious and -mostly- most difficult parts of changing to LEAN, the involved people their traditions, thoughts, minds, etc. are not worth discussing.

    Getting peoples minds on LEAN THINKING is the most difficult thing to do, that is not TOOLS but CULTURE (and this takes effort and time).

    If there is no understanding of 5S there will be no understanding of LEAN THINKING at all.

    That’s all I have to say and I guess I am not the only one around realizing that;-(

    Cheers, Ralf


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