Ryan McCormack’s Operational Excellence Mixtape: September 23, 2022


Thanks as always to Ryan McCormack for this… there's always so much good reading, listening, and viewing shared here by him!

Insights about improvement, innovation, and leadership

Operational Excellence, Improvement, and Innovation

Compliance vs. Creativity

“Standardization kills creativity”. 

 “It's an art – it cannot be standardized”.

“Standards will reduce us to unthinking robots.”

Standardized work remains a foundational yet polarizing concept. In most industries, the value of establishing a “best-known way” is generally understood: it reduces variation, helps accelerate training, and forms a baseline for improvement. But the fear that standardization reduces autonomy, creativity, and flexibility often drives resistance. The tension between opposing views of standards as a prison versus a liberating force is long-held.

The reasons often have to do with the way in which standards are deployed: mechanistically imposed, or organically developed. It's tempting to simply get some experts together to document standards and then impose them on the organization.  It's fast and can have some immediate ROI.  But context is important and cross-pollination should be encouraged over imposed standards, to encourage sustainability, flexibility, and ownership of the standards closer to the work. How an organization communicates and coaches standards is incredibly important for adoption as many people don't like to be told what to do, including me

What about the work of leaders? Isn't it more of an art form? Leaders are often too busy to spend more time in the work where they can engage with teams, reduce their reliance on assumptions, set direction, follow-up, and drive improvement. So what about Leader Standard Work? Consistent leadership processes can ensure leaders spend more time coaching their teams and driving improvement. Leader Standard Work can even drive sustained improvement to patient metrics and support culture.  Check out this great video of Leader Standard Work at Intermountain Health to see real-world examples. 

On Standardization

“If you think of ‘standardization' as the best that you know today, but which is to be improved tomorrow – you get somewhere. But if you think of standards as confining, then progress stops.” – Henry Ford, Today and Tomorrow, 1926.

“Unity in the essential, liberty in the non-essential, and charity in all” – Unknown

Creating a Culture of Improvement 


I've been party to dozens of employee engagement surveys across many organizations and these three things consistently emerge as drivers of engagement:

  • senior leadership visibility,
  • performance management, and
  • recognition.

People in all industries want more recognition – and that doesn't mean bonuses or gift cards.  People want genuine, authentic, and timely acknowledgment for their work and unique contributions. 

Meaningful recognition looks different in different industries, but it's a holistic approach to the small things that seem to make the largest difference. Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and author of Everybody Matters explains the what and whys of recognition and reminds us that it's not really that hard, but it involves everyone.

It's pretty straightforward: the better a leader is at giving recognition, the more engaged their employees are. Start today.

Always be learning

A culture of improvement requires engaging everyone in improvement every day – not relying only on ‘projects' led by experts or operational excellence teams. Read about how The Raymond Company enables a problem-solving culture that raises the knowledge of the workforce in order to achieve measurably better results.

Measurement is not management

Performance measurement isn't about scorecards – it's about feedback, learning, and improvement. Designing your performance measurement system with psychological safety is critical for driving the right culture

Coaching – Developing Self & Others


What got you here may not necessarily get you where you want to be. Don't allow yourself to stay comfortable in an increasingly uncertain world. Suzi McAlpine shares the most important leadership qualities to develop in 2022

Emotional Agility

We spend a lot of time trying to ‘align' teams towards strategic objectives and cultural norms. But Susan David argues that alignment starts from within – with the individual – in this interview with Slack. 

What's On My End Table

I'm enjoying a light-hearted story of how an entrepreneur turned around his company through culture – putting people first. Check out It's Not About the Mangos: Organizational Success Means Putting People First in this candid and accessible tale by Kent Coleman. 

A culture of excellence cannot be achieved by putting out a new set of values. It needs to be embedded into how leaders lead and people work, every day. Your management systems and work systems drive culture. Learn some practical approaches to helping scale your culture with the latest installment from The Shingo Model Series: Systems Design: Building Systems That Drive Ideal Behavior

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Ryan McCormack
Ryan is an operational excellence professional with over 18 years experience practicing continuous improvement in healthcare, insurance, food manufacturing, and aerospace. He is an avid student of the application of Lean principles in work and life to create measurably better value.


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