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The Power of a Good Checklist

“Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything–a checklist cannot fly a plane. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”

~Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
After I graduated from Georgia Tech, I had to join the Air Force Reserve or be drafted into another branch of the military. During the Vietnam War, once you got through college, no employer would touch you as they knew you were going to get drafted very soon after graduation.
I stayed in the Reserve as an enlisted man for about three years and then was lucky enough to get a direct commission as a second lieutenant. As an officer in a unit that flew patients from battle fronts to hospitals or between hospitals, our jobs were complicated and hectic. However, the government had devised special checklists that ensured our success as long as we followed them.
Like we did then, countless others use checklists to guarantee tasks are completed correctly. Commercial airline pilots are just one of many examples.
Lately, I have spent many hours on airplanes. I like to sit as close to the front of the plane as I can, especially if I have to make connections. The pilots leave the cockpit door open until takeoff, and from my seat, I can watch them go through checklist after checklist to make certain the plane is safe and sound to fly to the next stop.
Just as these pilots rely on checklists, every organization should be using checklists to ensure important goals and objectives are accomplished.
What I am talking about here is not those things we do every day as a matter of routine. Rather, I am talking about those challenging things we have to do periodically. Letting an employee go, for example. This is not something we have to do often, but there are so many things to be considered—determining remaining salary owed, recovering company possessions, paying out vacation time accrued and many others. A checklist helps make certain none of these important tasks are forgotten.
Another situation when checklists are helpful is when you are outsourcing services. A checklist here would ensure the right approvals are obtained, costs are competitive and adequate due diligence is performed on the company you are considering.
For a final example, it is important to have a checklist for the hiring process. This checklist could cover the job description, advertising for the position, salary, criteria for evaluating potential candidates and the interviewing process, among other things.
Over the years, I have devised countless numbers of checklists to keep my staff running efficiently. What I have found is that effective checklists specify every task that must be accomplished without skipping any significant details.
For me, checklists always alleviated my worries that I or one of my associates would forget something critical. I, personally, would rather see more checklists and fewer process and procedure manuals. 
Now go out and see where you can implement checklists to help your organization run better.
You can do this. 
Published: April 16, 2014

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Jerry Osteryoung

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses—he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His latest book, coauthored with Tim O’Brien, “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book,” is a bestseller on Amazon. Email Jerry @ jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

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