The Upside & Downside of Checklists

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The Upside & Downside of Checklists

By Terry McKenna, Convenience Store Coaches - 05/28/2015

How many checklists does your company use? There seems to be a checklist for everything these days. There are checklists for job duties and tasks by job title, function, department and business processes. There are checklists of do’s and don’ts, and what to say and what not to say. That’s a lot of checklists.

I know how valuable checklists are for ensuring consistency and predictability. Consistent job performance depends on keeping the arrows in balance and in the proper direction. Where would we be without checklists?

The downside of checklists, though, is they intentionally induce mindlessness. We just have to follow the steps and not think about them. This way of thinking suppresses innovation and creativity because everything has to fit neatly within the confines of the checklist. The important thinking has already been done by the checklist designers.

When we follow checklists and procedure manuals, we disengage our active thinking processes, just the reverse of the inquiring mindset that generates insights.

The primary job of any organization is to produce good products and outcomes, not to avoid errors. Management controls are necessary for any well-run enterprise to increase predictability and reduce errors. Excessive management controls, however, get in the way of insights and fresh, new, innovative thinking because they impose costs — time and effort — for making changes. A checklist mentality is contrary to an exploratory, curiosity-driven mentality.

The upside of checklists is they ensure tasks and duties get done, and get done in a consistent manner. Checklists are a great tool to get all employees, regardless of shift, on the same page with a common goal: completing the checklist as designed.

Consistency is a good thing. Lack of new insights prevents innovation – and that’s a bad thing. So, here’s what I suggest. At the bottom of the page for all of your checklists, have a section titled “A Better Way.” Encourage your employees while completing the checklist to think of a better way to perform the task or job duty that the checklist is addressing.

Your employees will need some guidance here, so here are five areas to help guide their thinking of how to come up with “A Better Way” of performing their jobs:

1. Improves the customer buying experience
2. Reduces expenses
3. Speeds up the process
4. Improves teamwork
5. Improves efficiency

Toyota’s frontline employees average 500,000 quality improvement ideas every year on how to build a better Toyota vehicle. How many ideas did you employees give you last year? Forget 500,000, I bet it was less than five; perhaps even less than one.

Who knows how to perform the job better than the folks who perform it every day? You have to tap into your employees’ brains in order to: have them thinking of better ways to perform their jobs and improving overall store operations; and get them to voluntarily give you their ideas.

Why is Toyota so successful in tapping into their employees’ brains for new ideas? Two reasons: Toyota expects it and reinforces it. You get what you expect.

Explain to your employees that you need their help in making improvements in the five areas mentioned above. Ask and encourage your employees to look for better ways for getting things done that result in improvements in these five areas. Finally, reinforce your employees’ efforts by always getting back to them on their new ideas. Let them know if you plan to implement their new idea and if you’re unable to do so, explain why. Finally, offer your employees a sincere thank you for helping improve your business.

What gets reinforced gets repeated. Who knows, maybe you’ll become the Toyota of the convenience industry. We can always hope right?

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner