Check(list) Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Checklists are so handy, aren’t they? You probably have one on your desk right now: a “laundry list” of things to do, procedures to follow, or even groceries to pick up. Whether you are a business veteran, or a fresh soul with the attention span of a two-year-old, checklists are helpful. They ensure that things get done and done correctly. While checklists are important, hiring a competent team is more important.

Checklists are extremely important for critical or safety related tasks. While working as a flight test engineer, we used checklists to ensure helicopters were operated safely. The lives of our crew was the utmost importance. Every detail was meticulously documented and followed daily. Except “this one time”. A helicopter was being armed with an explosive cap to test the aircraft’s flight characteristics after it jettisoned its payload. To perform this procedure, the helicopter and operator must be grounded to avoid any static discharge. The simple act of attaching the helicopter to the ground was not followed. When the crewman connected the wiring harness the cap exploded in his hand. This scared the hell out of him but miraculously he was unharmed. Had his hand been in a different angle, he might have lost it! Had he followed the damn checklist…

While helicopter operators need comprehensive lists, most business operations do not. I used to get annoyed that the bathroom was “cleaned,” but the soap dispenser was almost empty. My “brilliant” solution? I made a checklist detailing every item to be cleaned or restocked. A better solution, of course, is to employ proactive team members who understand how their contribution affects the whole business. This team member is more productive than someone who just follows instructions.

Your first concern must be getting the right people onboard. Avoid hiring “good-enough”. Focus on finding and empowering a team who operates without hand-holding. In the long run, a competent team saves cash and time spent writing pointless checklists. They establish an environment of excellence. New hires who do not fit the culture reveal themselves quickly, giving you an opportunity to find the right team members.

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