The most difficult lean principle and practice for an individual to embed in their thinking and for you to embed in your culture is the principle of “high agreement” or what is more commonly known as “standardization”. The principle of High Agreement is defined as “valuing a common way, or process, more than you value your own way”. Simply by reading the definition it becomes obvious why this is such a difficult principle to embrace. Most of us feel our way is the best way. Maybe, however, the answer to getting people and organizations to embrace this principle is in the definition itself—”valuing the common way”. People will not do what they don’t value, unless it’s required. It’s easy to preach the value of standardization (efficiency, effectiveness, etc.) but, except for safety, standardization is mostly seen as a value for someone else. So how do we explain and expose the value of this principle? How can we promote adherence to a standard?
We have been working with the railroad in the UK, and like in most organizations, we have been struggling to get employees to value and embrace standardization. I observed that it was very easy to get the organization and the employees to embrace standardization when it comes to the physical safety of the employees. Working in the rail industry, particularly on the track, can be very dangerous. It seemed obvious that standardization provide the employees the security they require to stay physically safe. It struck me that standardization provides more than physical safety, it provides emotional and possibly professional safety.
Standardization is like an insurance policy. If I follow the standard and there is a negative consequence, I’m covered. The only thing that can be blamed for the negative consequence is the standard or some unforeseen variable. You can’t blame me.
I think this is the value of a standard that is overlooked and not communicated. It protects an employee both emotionally and professionally. It’s their insurance policy against unwarranted and unfair accusation or blame. I don’t think we communicate this well to employees. I don’t think we communicated the “insurance” value of standardization and I think most of us value insurance, particularly if it’s free.