Fashion has become global. Sports and slang have become global. Our financial markets are global, and our disasters are global. Even when a financial or natural disaster occurs in one country or region, the impact travels around the world at a rapid pace. This is why healthcare leaders worry about the potential of a pandemic. We are connected with one another on a global scale.  

This global connection requires that we interact across oceans and borders. It requires that the meaning and intent of our interactions be easily understood, so we can learn quickly and take action accordingly. The challenge is that our history has not prepared us for global connection. 

Historically speaking, each village, town, city, culture, and country has had its own way of interacting, conveying meaning, and communicating not only intent (what one hopes to accomplish in the interaction) but also the intensity of feeling or commitment behind the message. As children, we had many opportunities to learn how to interact in our local culture, a process critical for survival. But now, in our global interactions—at international conferences, while traveling, while collaborating with others half a world away—we still bring what we learned in our local cultures to the interaction, and others do the same.   

As a result, we often miss the intent of the other person, miss the intensity of feeling or commitment, and fail to recognize the subtle and not-so-subtle meaning being expressed. It is impossible not to miss people when everyone has learned how to be and interact in a very local way.  

This is not exclusively a cross-border phenomenon. Today, every organization is more diverse than it has ever been, both inside (four generations in the workplace, differences in gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality) and outside (customers, suppliers, stakeholders). Each person has a way of interacting born of her local culture. There are many opportunities to miss one another, whether across the globe or in the next cubicle.  

For these reasons, as we live in this globally connected world, we have to develop standard work around our interactions.  

The point of standard work in general—the most efficient and effective process for performing a given task—is to avoid reinventing the wheel and thus to eliminate waste. With its origins in Lean Six Sigma, standard work provides an established, repeatable way to complete routine tasks. Organizations have done well in applying standard work to manufacturing and operations, resulting in such benefits as reduced cycle time, leaner processes, and enhanced results.  

Similarly, standard work for interactions establishes a common vocabulary of words and phrases that clearly convey the meaning, intent, and intensity behind the message. By defining and using these terms among ourselves, we communicate in a way that the other person has also learned and therefore understands. The message is successfully delivered, and the interaction is right first time: no need to rework it because of misunderstanding. In this way, standard work for interactions eliminates waste. 

Many standard work terms identify the context of our interaction. For instance: 

  • When I say, “I am leaning into discomfort right now,” it signals that what follows is difficult for me to say, or that I have a major investment in it. The language allows you, in effect, to adjust your listening approach to match the seriousness of the message. 
  • When I say, “I am listening as an ally,” it communicates my intent to be fully open and attentive to what you are about to say; I am joining with you in the conversation, rather than judging you from afar.  

Global standard work for interactions, in essence, provides a common language that both clarifies and opens the door for more effective encounters. It eliminates having to guess the meaning behind what others say.

We miss a lot. For many organizations today, these misses are significant blocks to higher individual, team, and organization performance. No organization can afford this—not when speed of knowledge transfer and application are major competitive advantages. With global standard work for interactions, we reduce the guesswork and have more right first-time interactions. We speed up understanding, make things clearer, and get ourselves all on the same page. This is essential for our global connections to work for us and not against us.  

In a world of change, we all have to change. Global standard work for interactions is a start.* 

*For more about the phrases that comprise standard work for interactions, see Judith H. Katz and Frederick A. Miller, Opening Doors to Teamwork and Collaboration: 4 Keys That Change EVERYTHING (Berrett-Koehler, forthcoming March 2013).  


© 2012 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.