Standardized Work for Executive Leadership (Article Review)

Emiliani’s article, titled “Standardized Work for Executive Leadership”, aims to discuss a new approach that can be used to create overall improvement in leadership in the workplace.

Emiliani starts the discussion by enumerating and describing the different errors in organizational leadership that need to be addressed in order to ensure actual capable and effective leadership.

A core concept in this article is “standardized work”, which Emiliani indicates as an important part of executive leadership in the organization. The article is a culmination of qualitative research that was conducted by Emiliani on the subject matter.

Emiliani also used deductive reasoning, as well as first-hand or primary data from a sample of management practitioners.

With the aim of understanding more about organizational leadership, Emiliani found out that it is possible to establish a new and improved leadership approach (a) by using a new leadership definition in the workplace, (b) by implementing a set of detailed and specific business principles applicable to the workplace, and (c) by establishing a standardized set of required or expected skills in an executive leader. These aspects of the new approach are necessary in providing a practical way for leadership improvement by linking standardized work to the regular tasks of executive leaders.

Even though this research on standardized work for executive leadership offers a new way with high potential for actual improvement of executive leadership, the research does not provide concrete results because this new approach has not yet been tested in actual workplaces. Thus, the application of standardized work for the executive leader may come with risks that have not yet been identified either in this research or other literature. Nonetheless, similar approaches have been implemented in some organizations, showing considerable success.

This article emphasizes the importance of examining current executive leadership practices and how these practices influence the organizational environment. Emiliani states that many errors in leadership happen because of the lack of standardization in executive leaders’ work. Emiliani states that the results of this research, as discussed in the article, contribute the concept of “standardized work” to existing literature on executive leadership practices.

Key Learning Points on Standardized Work for Executive Leadership

One of the key learning points in the article is that executive leadership is riddled with errors. Emiliani states that, at present, there are a variety of errors that can extend over various aspects of the organization. For instance, the errors mentioned in the article include discrimination and harassment, cutting benefits and elective mass layoffs, as well as differential treatment, underpayment and hiding debt.

Such errors occur at significant rates in organizations of all sizes, such that executives need to be more aware of such errors. Awareness is important among executives especially because such errors can sometimes become engrained in the organization’s culture and leadership that they can be difficult to detect and correct.

In relation, another key learning point in the article is that executive errors, when unchecked and left uncorrected can continue to propagate and greatly impact the organization to its detriment. Emiliani emphasizes that an error may have varying effects on the same organization depending on the extent and duration of the existence and effect of the error in the organization’s executive leadership.

When errors are left unchecked and uncorrected, they can propagate and impact the entire organization instead of just a limited or isolated part of the organization. As a result, the article shows that errors can gradually increase in its negative impact to the organization, and that checked and correcting errors at an early stage can help minimize the negative effects of such errors on the organization.

This condition emphasizes the need for a checking and correcting mechanism, or an avoidance and prevention mechanism in the organization. Through prevention and avoidance, the impact of errors can be greatly reduced and executive effectiveness can be ensured.

The main key learning point in the article is that there is a need for standardization of work or the use of standard work practices among executive leaders. Emiliani sees standardized work practices as an important and effective way by which executive leadership errors can be minimized and by which executive leadership can be greatly improved. Standard work practices can prevent undesirable deviations in executive leadership and, thus, can improve the overall effectiveness of executive leadership.

Statements and Justification

One of the statements in the article is as follows: “most leaders possess a casual view of errors” (see p. 31 of article). I agree with this statement. In most organizations that I know, errors are typically addressed in a casual manner, such as through informal warnings, plain complain statements that do not have proper bearing on the weight of the error made, and lack of conviction among leaders in addressing errors that have already been identified by the leaders.

Because executive leaders are at the highest levels of the organizational structure or hierarchy, it is quire difficult to detect and correct errors committed by executive leaders. Errors in executive leadership can do unnoticed or even ignored because of the authority that these leaders have against other members of the organization. In addition, organizations seem to have a general culture that does not pay attention to the importance of errors in executive leadership.

Such culture leads to the lack of proper mechanism or system that can be used to detect and correct errors. As a result, errors in executive leadership can readily propagate throughout organizations. The lack of checking and correcting, as well as the attitude of the organization to errors in executive leadership can be considered as manifestations of the casual view of leaders on errors in executive leadership.

Another statement in the article is as follows: “Standardized work […] provides […] opportunities for making improvements in work procedures” (see p. 32 of article). I do not completely agree with statement. Emiliani shows that standardized work allows organizations to identify and take advantage of opportunities for work improvements.

However, standardized work can lead to rigidity in work processes. Standardized work can limit the flexibility of executive leaders and the flexibility of the organization, such that it would be difficult to develop opportunities for improvement.

This is based on the notion that flexibility creates opportunities for improvement, and improvement requires some level of flexibility in leadership and in the organization. Through flexibility, organizations can have a broader perspective of its situations, such that more opportunities can be identified and exploited. However, through standardized work for executive leadership, opportunities can be greatly limited.

Critical Analysis

The article presents an important approach that can be of great benefit to organizations of all sizes. The concept of standardized work is not new. Standardized work has been used in many organizations for decades. However, such use of standardized work has been limited mainly to the operational level of organizations, such as in manufacturing operations and sales operations.

However, at the executive leadership level of the organization, standardized work can be barely observed. There has been a prevailing practice and approach to executive leadership that allows for great flexibility in the work processes of executive leaders. This has benefits and disadvantages. The main benefit that can be readily seen in non-standardized executive leadership is flexibility, which allows leaders to make novel decisions and actions for the benefit of the organization. Executive leaders without standardized work can readily adopt new policies and processes that can help save organizations from decline. However, t

The disadvantage of non-standardized work in executive leadership is that it provides opportunities for leaders to commit errors and tolerate such errors. Many of these errors are natural manifestations of being human. Naturally, leaders commit errors. What is important about this disadvantage is that it can actually counteract the benefit of flexibility. Errors can limit the benefits or flexibility and can even bring the organization to its decline.

Through the central concept and principle of standardized work in executive leadership, organizations can address the disadvantage of flexibility of non-standardized work in executive leadership. This means that errors can be greatly limited. However, the benefits of flexibility can also be greatly reduced.

The new approach provided by the article does not include mechanisms by which this reduction in flexibility can be addressed. For instance, the article talks only about standardization of work for executive leadership and not the mitigation of risks of reducing the flexibility brought about by non-standardization. As a result, the article is a one-way exploration of change from non-standardized work to standardized work in executive leadership.

It would be beneficial for executive leadership and for the organization to develop a system in which standardized work in executive leadership can be integrated with the necessary flexibility for improvement in overall leadership. For instance, Emiliani could have presented steps for addressing the issues or problems that are associated with such a change towards standardized work in executive leadership. It is important that such issues or problems are addressed because they can counteract the supposed benefits of implementing standardized work in executive leadership. There needs to be an assessment of how such change would impact the organization and its executive leadership. Through a system that addresses such issues or problems, the shift towards standardized work in executive leadership can be really effective and successful.

  • Emiliani, M. L. (2007). Standardized work for executive leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 29(1), 24-46.

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