I’m lost without my checklist!

A friend of mine recently closed his financial advisory business in New York and moved south, re-establishing his practice, and he described a great case study and the value of checklists.

His practice revolves around corporate benefits.  Recently, he received a call from a business prospect in the new area who accepted a proposal.  “Yes”, said the new client, “let’s get that insurance plan on our executives and we’ll move our 401(k) to you as well.”

Great, a no-brainer.  The kind of transaction he does dozens of times a year, but wait — before his move, he had a staff to actually execute all of this once the client said “yes.”  They had been trained to be meticulous about setting up a case and seeing it through.

Instead of a staff, he now had a big pile of paper on his desk and was not sure where to begin.  Not that he doesn’t know how to proceed; he’s done this business for years, but he has to think about it, and he had to remember.  And when it comes to doing, it’s valuable not to be thinking at the same time.  (More about that in another post.)

Have you ever had the experience of doing something again for the very first time? It seems silly doesn’t it?  But every time you do something you’ve done before, and you have to think about it, that’s exactly what you are doing.  Engage your brain to create, not to recall, whenever you can.

As he built his business, he carefully developed processes, created lists that address each type of activity, and systematically trained staff to carry them out.  The product was a successful business with consistently high quality service.  Of course, those processes and lists are still in a box someplace.

He dug into the paperwork.  As he went, he drew on his experience to recall the requirements of these types of accounts, these product companies.  Okay, these forms are complete — oh, and I need one of these.  Then we need to do this and this, and, oh! I forgot this.  Two hours of work took all day.  Without simple, written instructions, he essentially had to design a new process as he went, even though he had done the same thing hundreds of times in the past.  He will be unpacking that box very soon.

Do you perform any routine processes by memory?   That’s fine for the simplest ones that never change – brushing your teeth, recording your voice mail message, scheduling an appointment.  But as the number of steps and the number of options increases, the more likely a missed detail can derail a smooth outcome the first time, the more you can benefit from written prompts and reminders.  No one I know uses a checklist before starting a car.  Every pilot runs through one before starting a plane.

Of course, midway through his process, his wife, who’s business he had just set up with carefully designed processes and instructions, walked in.

“What are you doing?”

“Making sure I have everything I need to process this case.”

“You should have a checklist!”

“Thanks, dear.”

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