Friday, March 2, 2012

Quick Tip: Macro/Micro Checklist - A Great Tool

The other day I met a woman who had just hired her first company employee, an assistant. She noted that it was difficult to work around the fact that her assistant was more of a clock puncher than an independent thinker who was able to anticipate what needed to be done. I offered her my usual, go-to, quick tip training idea that would help her assistant take ownership of her job: The checklist.

When done properly a checklist works great to relay job tasks for anyone in any situation. It defines the parameters of a job and gives the employee the freedom to work independently and take ownership of their job. Here are some the other reasons why I promote checklists:

  • It can eliminate the desire to micromanage staff and help define job relationships.
  • It can improve employee engagement.
  • It is a simple tool that's easy to update with the needs of the job.
  • It's a concrete list of what an employee does every day.
  • It's a concrete list of technical processes.
  • It can take the pressure off performance meetings because the focus is on collaborating on the checklist.

The trick however is to keep the checklist concise, organized and based on action verbs. Not everyone can do that right away, but even so I like to suggest it as a go-to training tool because even a badly written checklist is better than nothing!

If you see merit in my checklist suggestion and you want to take it further, know that there are two kinds of checklists. One can be used to define broad functions of a job. I call this a Macro Checklist and it looks very much like a To Do list. It allows the employee to ask, "Gee, did I cover everything today?"

Checklists can also be used on a micro level to help an employee complete a specific and detailed task. Using a Micro Checklist, the employee can walk through the list items to ensure they complete every detail correctly and in the right order. This is very useful in technical situations, when an employee is learning a new task or when a detailed task is performed infrequently.

For a new employee, a Micro Checklist is a lifesaver. They can rely on the checklist to tell them what to do while allowing their brain to be free to learn and remember HOW to do things. As an employee learns the ropes they will need less and less detailed instructions on how things are done. Over time they can shrink or join items on the checklist that they have memorized and no longer rely on. This moves a Micro Checklist into being a Macro Checklist.

To implement Macro/Micro Checklists, I suggest using Excel to write checklists because in Excel you can hide rows if you don't need them. By combining Macro items and Micro items into one Excel document you can access both at all times. I start by using the left column to list a heading (or Macro item) while listing all the Micro items indented in the next column.

Here's a quick example of how to combine the Macro/Micro Checklist:
Notice how each item starts with a verb and special notes are brief and in brackets.

1. Wash laundry
  1. Separate clothes into categories (Lights/whites, Darks, Coloured)
  2. Fill washing machine with 1 load
  3. Add detergent (one capful)
  4. Close machine lid
  5. Turn nob to appropriate machine setting (usually: "Normal Wash")
  6. Pull nob to start machine
2. Drop off mail
3. Buy Groceries

In this example more items could be added to "Wash Laundry" (once the machine has finished washing the laundry, it needs to go into the drier) but you get the general idea.

A collapsible Macro/Micro Checklist is a great tool. Now go forth and conquer!!

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