The Checklist Revolution (part 1)

The Checklist Revolution (part 1)

Whether you were aware or not, the Checklist Revolution is slowly and silently overtaking the world, industry by industry, room by room, worker by worker. It’s a modest, faceless revolution, acting without the hype of a new machine or the attraction of a fancy new software update. The true genius of the checklist lies in its simplicity.

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“That’s insulting!”: Breaking the ‘professional’ paradigm

Looking at the facts, employing checklists into your workplace seems more than logical.

Atul Gawande, in his mission to introduce checklists into medical facilities worldwide, tested the effect of the checklist in 8 hospitals worldwide during a trial period. After adopting the checklists, complications fell by 35% and death rates by 47% in every hospital. Even surgeons benefit from a simple-step list to check off.

Gawande acknowledges the aviation industry as being the forerunners of checklists. Pilots diligently trained to rely on checklists have saved hundreds of lives by following a simple, three-step checklist in the face of emergencies in Honolulu in 1989, London in 2008, Montana 2008, and the famous 2009 crash-landing in the Hudson river, to cite a few. Given that in-flight emergences occur in only one of every 500,000 flights, these numbers are more significant than they may at first appear.

Logical or not, the real problem with checklists in the workplace is convincing your employees that following a checklist does not imply that they are less qualified, less capable or less knowledgeable about what they do.

Following a checklist seems an elementary process, one for beginners, the trainees, the ‘uneducated’. However, checklists really only mean one thing: discipline. Professionalism, regardless of the field, requires discipline. We could even go so far as to say that discipline is perhaps the definition of professionalism.

This is where we arrive at the problem of extreme complexity, coined by Gawande himself. Expertise is not a virtue in all situations. In circumstances defined by their complexity (such as surgery, flying a plane, constructing a skyscraper), no matter how knowledgeable or well-trained, the human memory cannot be expected to remember every detail or every step of the process every time. In this instance, checklists are designed and used in many industries of the world, not to guide in a process that experts are clearly very familiar with, but to catch the details that familiarity and repetition can cause us to forget.

Complexity is neither noble nor wise. There is nothing admirable in losing oneself in complex processes, just as there is nothing shameful in simplifying procedures for quality and efficiency.

We can’t, however, write a checklist to change the mindsets of self-proclaimed ‘experts’, ‘professionals’ and ‘specialists’. We warn you that resistance to the implementation of checklists in your workplace is essentially inevitable. Your staff didn’t endure years of tertiary education to be presented with a checklist to tick off in the work they’ve been trained to do. Or so they think.

In reality, the more complex and highly regarded the profession, the greater their reliance on simple checklists seem to be. Pilots are trained from the beginning to have faith in their checklists, surgeons now swear by them, buildings would collapse without them, and they have saved millions of lives, silently and frustratingly simply.

In addition, checklists relocate responsibility (which, when converted to emotion, means stress) from the centre of your firm to further down the employee line, without shifting the power (‘control’ in emotion terms) from the top of the line. What’s so good about this, you ask? Find out in Part 2: LINK.

And if you’re still afraid of staff response to your checklist proposal, don’t be. Part 5 takes you through a step-by-step (ironic, we know) guide to the successful implementation of checklists in the workplace.

Written by HowNowHQ View all posts by this author →

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