Checklists Provide Consistency and Creativity

By Ann
July 1, 2007

Making a checklist or written guidelines takes time and effort initially. Some people feel that structure stifles their creativity and spontaneity.  Too much "micro-structure" like micro-managing can be counter productive.

Running a business without checklists and guidelines is inefficient.  People spend valuable mental energy thinking about the next step instead of executing pre-thought-out steps.  Good opportunities are lost because you are not in a position to take advantage of them.

Operating without checklists to provide a basic structure is an invitation for chaos.  People react to whatever shows up. How often have you been frustrated because the right supplies or equipment weren't on hand to get the job done?  How much valuable time have you lost dealing with confusion that could have been
prevented?

People get different results from the same action. Recently I was frustrated because the lamp in my hotel room did not work.  No amount of switches and changing bulbs was successful.  Aha!  Finally I discovered the lamp was not plugged into the wall.  After moving a heavy piece of furniture to plug in the lamp, I had light.  Imagine an item on a checklist for the housekeeping staff that said, "all lights working"?

Is it baptism by fire for new hires in your business? Do your most valuable assets, your people, have guidelines and checklists to help them learn how to produce consistent results to your standard of excellence?

My first experience with a real estate closing was evidence of the value of checklists.  The attorney didn't have the necessary forms.  He didn't appear to know what documents and forms we needed.  What he did have was in disarray.  The closing took much longer than necessary.  In addition to having a thirty year financial obligation, I left wondering how the firm stayed in business.

The solution is quite simple. Look at all the areas of your business and create the appropriate guidelines and checklists in all of them.  Include these areas:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Product Development
  • Client Care
  • Administration
  • Finance
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Facilities

Teach your people to use these guidelines and checklists. Engage your people in creating the written systems because they understand the nuances of their areas of expertise.

The benefits of having written systems include

1)  Consistent results from a standard way of doing something
2)  Ability to change the system when you are not getting the results you want
3)  Training and teaching tool for new employees
4)  Creation of an infrastructure that supports growth for your company and your employees
5)  Input from employees to create the systems taps their expertise and experience
6)  Freedom to work creatively within the guidelines
7)  Efficient use of time
8)  Ability to take advantage of unexpected opportunities

The construction industry is high risk high reward.  When I suggested to an electrical contractor that he have a plan for his day, he said, "All I do is show up on the job and the rest takes care of itself."  Contrast this mindset to a large construction company I worked with.  They routinely hire graduates of Design, Architecture and Construction from Auburn University. With six new graduates from Auburn on the team, they recognized the value of standard operating procedures from bidding (or negotiating) through punch-out, billing and collection.

With written checklists and procedures in place, they have jobs running smoothly and have minimized their "fire-fighting." Anyone can look at the master file for a project to determine the status.  With jobs finishing on time they have fewer penalties and more satisfied clients.  The bonding company is happy because they can accurately project their profit before the job is over.

Personal checklists are valuable, too.  Consider a travel checklist if you travel frequently on business.  Packing is easier and faster. Certain that you have everything you need for a productive trip, you can focus on the business at hand.  No more turning around half way to the airport to go back to get a forgotten file or pair of shoes.  Checklists take out the stress and replace it with confidence.

Create Checklists and Guidelines with These Points in Mind

1)  Put them in writing and have them easily available
2)  Keep them simple
3)  Allow latitude to be creative within the guidelines
4)  Use them as a training tool for new hires and new role assignments
5)  Hold people accountable to the systems
6)  Measure results and change the systems that are not producing the results you want
7)  Review regularly and modify as needed
8)  Date any revisions
9)  Use them to reflect your standard of excellence

The structure of checklists allows MORE creativity rather than less because people using a basic structure or system to hand basic issues have more time to think about the non-basic ones.

Invest time and thought in advance to create simple guidelines to operate your business efficiently. The time you save and the efficiencies you create will pay for your effort many times over.

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