Recently I was talking with a friend about leader standard work. She's a leader - a production manager - so naturally I value her opinion on the subject. She was lamenting the fact that she did not have any standard work to support the objectives that she is given. For example, she was recently told by her managers that her team's productivity was below target and needed to improve by 10%.
Picture the boss from Office Space, "Yeah, I'm gonna need you to go ahead and improve your productivity by 10%. So if you could just go ahead and do that next month, that'd be great." (Apologies to those who haven't seen the movie.) So what's she supposed to do? The likely response is to go to her team and say, "Hey guys, could you try and be a little more productive from now on?"
Now this is the point where I would normally insert a metaphor about running (and I have a good one), but I expect that's getting old; so I'm going to change my vector.
When I was in college I was in a Wednesday night bowling league. Most of us weren't that good, and truth be told it was mostly just an excuse to socialize and drink beer in the middle of the week. My bowling technique was simple: try to knock down as many pins as possible. And when I fell short of my goal, my countermeasure was to try and knock down more pins next time. Oddly enough I struggled to improve.
But there was one guy on the team who was really good, and he eventually started working with me. He taught me to focus on my approach, when and how I released the ball, speed, follow-through, everything except the pins. It took some practice to get it right, but eventually the pins did fall. And when my performance failed to meet my expectations I re-focused on the fundamental techniques (not the pins), and I usually recovered.
Fans of Dr. Tom Johnson, professor at Portland State University and author of Profit Beyond Measure (one of the most influential books I've ever read) will recognize this approach as Managing by Means, as opposed to Managing by Results. The way to improve results is to focus on the means by which those results are achieved, and the results will take care of themselves.
So to my friend the leader with no standard work, I would advise going to gemba, observing the work, discovering which activities are value-creating and which are not, improving the value-creating activities, and reducing or eliminating the non-value-creating activities. Build your standard work around that, and the productivity will come.