The power of checklists

I enjoy learning to fly a plane. It’s a  2 seater Cessna. I’ve got a few hours under my belt. I need quite a few more before I qualify as a pilot. The whole experience is great fun. I also enjoy running, managing and growing businesses. Over the years I’ve become quite good at growing businesses. The are a couple of reasons for this:

1.   I’ve built-up 4 businesses over the last 12 years. During that period I’ve made lots of mad mistakes. And I’ve had some spectacular successes.

2.   I’ve conducted just over 2,500 business growth consultations now. I’ve learnt a few things things about how to grow a business

During my flying lessons I’ve noticed quite a few skills, attributes and processes which are similar to running a business. I’d like to share two of those with you here:

1.   The power of checklists

Before I spend go for a flying lesson, my instructor (Tony) takes me in the strategy room. Here we talk through what we’ll be doing during the session. We discuss the weather, route, my aims and objectives, my mind-set alongside a few focus points. All of this gives me direction. And it helps me focus on what I’m looking to achieve out of the session.As we board the plane. Tony always goes through a checklist with me. One day I asked Tony ‘how long did you say you’ve been doing this job for?’ Tony proudly replied ‘well over 25 years now’.

So I went on to say ‘in that case you know this checklist inside out. Why don’t you just go through the routine without referring to the checklist? ‘Tony smiled and said ‘yes that would seem like the obvious thing to. But at times my mind might not be focused and I might forget to to check something really simple. Plus relying on the checklist means I don’t need to keep all of this stuff in my head – this helps me focus on what I’ll be doing for you rather than worrying about what to check. And most importantly when a routine becomes a habit, you start taking shortcuts. With a checklist I’ll never be tempted to take a shortcut as I’ll follow each step and this gives a consistent outcome.’

Now I’d learnt through business experience that a process dependent business it much better than a people dependent business. On numerous occasion I had seen the awesome results achieved by systematised businesses. They were the ones who followed checklist and did everything in a disciplined manner. However, I questioned Tony about the the benefits. And Tony re-affirmed my belief that checklist are vital in a business.

Do you have checklist in your business? If the answer is yes then are they followed consistently? If you don’y have checklist then why not make a start by introducing a couple of simple ones to get you started – choose two areas which are critical to your business and create checklists to improve the process – over time you’ll be amazed with the results.

2.   The power of information and being alert

When you’re up in the air you need to be fully alert of what’s going on. You need to keep in touch with air traffic control. This is vital as they tell you what’s going on around you. Beyond this, you need to keep a look out for what’s going on. In a small plan, you need to be even more alert – a little change around you can have a big impact on flying conditions. And, of course, you need to keep an eye on the gauges. This helps ensure everything is in hand as  far as possible. Of course sometimes things happen which are unexpected and you have to deal with them accordingly.

Now I know being in a plane requires a different approach to, say,  being sat in an office. However, the principle of information and alertness still apply. To help with this consider the following:

  • Do you have access to regular management information
  • Do you use that information to make sound business decisions
  • Is there someone who you guides you – a coach, mentor or associate. A bit like air traffic control in my example above
  • Are you fully alert with what’s going on – or are you a ‘busy fool’ following a long and convoluted to-do list
  • Do you know where you’re going and is your plan nice and simple to follow
  • If you employ people, do you brief them on a regular basis – A bit like Tony does with me before every session

Once you have the relevant information to hand, you’ll make better decisions. Those decisions will lead to you having a better business with bigger profits. Furthermore, if you can build a process dependent business then it will work like clockwork – a beautifully automated business which runs without you. This will increase the value of your business. And it’ll be worth more when you come to sell it. Now that’s worth the effort, isn’t it?