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Checkit Marketing Feb 23, 2022 4:00:00 PM 5 min read

3 reasons why static checklists will never drive operational excellence

The world of work has been turned on its head. Desk-based jobs have been reshaped by remote working, supported by live chat, virtual meetings and productivity apps. But most deskless activity is still managed the way it was decades ago… with static checklists. And that's a problem if you want to drive operational excellence. Here's why...

Who needs static checklists?

It's a genuine question.

Many cleaners, kitchen staff, retail assistants, medical teams and other deskless workers must report their activity by checklists. One US restaurant chain expects each of its outlets to complete a 28-page checklist every day.

In workplaces ranging from cafés and convenience stores to hospitals and health clinics, checklists are delivered on paper, in disjointed spreadsheets or makeshift computer programmes.

The problem is that these outdated checklists prevent meaningful progress. And meaningful progress is vital when you want to drive operational excellence.

Deskless employees certainly don't benefit from static checklists. They bluntly ask: have you completed tasks A, B and C? There’s very little guidance attached to them, no scope to add value and no sense of achievement.

Static checklists also get in the way of managers attempting to drive operational excellence. There’s no quick way to know precisely where, when, how, and by whom the task was completed. There's no easy way to spot trends or compare performance between multiple teams, and the mechanism for improving procedures is slow and cumbersome.

Static checklists are failing both groups and leaving the leaders of organisations with little or no insight into the overall health of their operations. This is the reality of dark operations, where risks, inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement are hidden from view.

Dark operations are dragging modern organisations backwards, and the organisations clinging to checklists see consequences in several ways.

This blog outlines three reasons why static checklists are dead.

1. You can't drive operational excellence when frontline staff are disengaged

The labour crisis is eating into frontline services, with record staff shortages reported across healthcare, hospitality, food service, retail and logistics.

Various macro trends are responsible, from Covid disruption to immigration policies. 

Employers can't influence those factors. What employers can change is the way they coordinate their deskless workforces to improve job satisfaction.

When frontline employees feel empowered, their productivity can drive operational excellence - making an even more significant contribution to growth, customer experience and safety. This is one of the reasons why colleague experience has become a strategic priority in sectors such as retail.

Management of deskless workers has traditionally adopted a command-and-control approach. As a result, deskless workers don't feel like their efforts are appropriately recognised.  It's hardly surprising if their activity is noted on paper or spreadsheets and filed away for monthly or quarterly reporting.

But the disengagement that lies behind the staffing crisis demands a new strategy. Employers must give more autonomy to frontline workers operating far away from company headquarters. A recent study highlighted how giving frontline workers greater control over their time and scheduling could drive productivity.

The digital experiences of deskless workers demand more attention. This will become more pressing as a new generation of digital natives enters the workforce. 

2. Checklists prevent the agility you need to drive operational excellence

The ability to adapt to changing circumstances is one of the most important characteristics of today's organisations. Agility has enabled some organisations to thrive in the wake of the pandemic by streamlining services, launching new products or adjusting their business models.

At a time of global disruption, businesses are being judged on their ability to identify and act on both threats and opportunities. According to a Forbes Insights/PMI report, 92% of C-level executives believe organisational agility is critical to business success.

Businesses need agility to meet rising public expectations of service quality and standards. Convenience, safety and speed of delivery are all top concerns for consumers. But they require organisations to carefully coordinate their resources – people, stock and infrastructure – to meet demands efficiently.

Static checklists provide little of the intelligence needed to make business decisions.

What can you learn from a static checklist? How do you know what’s working? How do you know where to target your improvement efforts?

Checklists are retrospective by nature. And by the time you see the little insight they provide, it's often too late to make changes.

Old-style checklists also make it more difficult for leaders to roll out new policies and procedures at pace. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need for organisations to update ways of working quickly. For example, care home procedures were adjusted extremely quickly to keep residents safe. Checklists are not responsive. If your operations are spread across a network of locations, how do you ensure new instructions are evenly distributed to all employees at the right time?

There's also a distinct lack of data. To drive operational excellence, leaders need up-to-the-minute insight into what is working and what is not. Static checklists shroud that insight in complexity, making it difficult to capture examples of best practice and identify opportunities for continuous improvement.

3. Simplistic checklists do not address increased safety concerns

Safe working conditions are fundamental to any effort to drive operational excellence.

The pandemic has heightened safety concerns. A survey in 2021 suggested that 71% of workers did not feel completely safe in their workplace. Risk reduction will be crucial for organisations aiming to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

Employers can ensure safer working conditions and reduce the risk of errors and accidents if they have real-time visibility of what’s happening on the frontline.

Outdated paperwork and associated checklists are slow, inflexible and prone to errors and falsification. The result is that organisations succumb to ‘dark operations’ – making them blind to risks that they cannot see.

In summary, checklists are a tool for command-and-control. They restrict flexibility, block insight and suck energy, which is why they don’t work in today’s world.

We'll be exploring alternatives to the outdated checklist in future blogs. But if you'd like to learn today how Checkit helps drive operational excellence, take a closer look at our intelligent operations platform.


Checkit Marketing

Content & Communications Manager at Checkit