Certainty Blog

Solving Organizational Resistance to Checklists

Resistance to using checklists

No blog series on checklists can be complete without addressing the potential resistance to using checklists. It’s one thing for you to be convinced of the merits of checklists, but if your colleagues don’t think they’re a clever idea, then you’re going to have a struggle on your hands.

We need to look at some of the most common excuses that people give, and it’s good to remember that some of those excuses will ALWAYS remain unspoken. Even if our checklist is clearly needed and well-designed so it meets that need, there can still be considerable resistance to its use.

Implementing innovative ideas is always challenging but you’re going to have to overcome all the objections to their use. In this blog, we discuss the most common objections, the first of which is “If anyone else knows how I do this task, I can be replaced.” This concern will rarely be voiced and will remain unspoken, so it’s important to understand that it’s probably the most powerful objection of them all.

It’s quite common in any organization for an employee to worry that if they share too much knowledge or information, then they’ll lose status, influence, or even their job. A special status goes with being the only one who knows how to do something. People can worry that if their job is seen to be easy when the checklist is introduced, then a cheaper person could do it with obvious implications for their own position.

In a situation where someone is having difficulty sharing their special knowledge and showing resistance to using checklists, it can be good practice to reassure them that good employees aren’t easily replaced. Employees are usually valuable for more than one set of skills or knowledge. While it can be useful for them to develop knowledge in a substantive area, simply having that knowledge without any other features of a good employee will not protect their job.

If more people can be taught how to complete a task then that task can be accomplished no matter who is there to do it. This can free up the so-called ‘go-to’ person or others to do more challenging work that is perhaps more in line with their career ambition or interests. It can also help them to take time off or go on leave without worrying that their ‘in-tray’ will be a meter deep upon their return. Ultimately, however, you’re going to have to explain that it’s unacceptable to maintain a situation where only one person knows how to do something or where only one person can know the status of a task or project. If the ‘go-to’ person can’t or won’t accept that, then it’s going to become a clash of wills that can only have one outcome. In which case, THEN they’re going to need to draw their own conclusions about their long-term prospects.

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