We have a problem, make another checklist?

For the life of me I don’t know why we don't come up with a checklist to end world hungry, poverty or racism, because so many companies think that checklists and people checking them will fix all their problems. Now of course I'm being sarcastic, but the desire to throw in another list or audit to ensure results or a desired behavior is all too common. The logic is flawed: Checklists are only as effective as the people checking them. Checkers who are not aligned or connected to the values of the organization will net the same results as if the checklist did not exist. We have to accept that we can't manage people (although we can manage things) — we must lead them. But accepting that is often difficult because it requires hard work, self-management and a real investment of one’s time. So most, although not all, take the easy route and absolutely ensure they will achieve mediocrity.

Our love of the checklist runs deep. Just Google "checklist" and you will see how entrenched the flawed approach is. That said, I completely understand the need for checklists and audits and am not advocating for their demise. For example, I very much want my airline pilot to perform his pre-flight checklist, so checklists certainly have a place. My point is that a checklist or audit is a tool and cannot replace solid leadership, training and development, as well as sound hiring practices. The reality is that adding more checkers and auditors is expensive and creates a lack of trust between management and staff. In my experience the people who have the right tools are aligned and connected to the values and mission of the organization and don't rely on audits — they self-manage. We must always be careful of how small of a box we want to put people in, because once in they tend to perform within that box, never realizing their full potential. And worse, great people simply leave. 

A checkers checking checkers approach creates a costly work environment that does not promote creativity, trust or high-performance.


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    Tim Winner has more than two decades of business and executive management experience, including working with start-up companies, holding  leadership roles in operations and HR, and serving as the chief operating officer in both for- profit and non-profit companies.

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    November 2013
    March 2012
    February 2012