In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan examine checklists. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
✔ How a checklist is the basis of standardization and therefore a path to operational excellence
✔ How to focus on the essential and keep out everything else to create the checklist your agency needs
✔ How to foster the adoption of your checklist and deal with pushback
✔ How to format and distribute checklists to everyone whenever they need them
Suppose you went to three of your account managers and asked each one of them, independently of the others, to write out what their typical renewal process looks like, step by step, and hand it into you. What’s the likelihood that every process would look the same?
If your agency doesn’t have a checklist policy, the answer is, not likely at all. People have a way of personalizing the way they do things, and that’s fine for a while, but it cannot be the norm at any agency that wants to call itself operationally excellent. Standardization is a core tenet of operational excellence, and though it shouldn’t be an impediment to spontaneity or creativity, at the end of the day, standardization means you do the same task the same way until further notice. A checklist ensures you do so by detailing the steps you need to take to fulfill a particular goal or objective.
What sets a checklist apart from any other list is self-evident: you must check it for it to work. There is a name for that other thing you never check: a procedure manual. The simplicity of a checklist is what makes it easy to work with, and yet we usually see pushback against a mandatory checklist policy. People don’t like to be made to check a list in order to fulfill a process that they believe they have down pat. But if you think you’re above a checklist, consider this: planes cannot fly without them. (2:10) We don’t have time to get into how a hundred-thousand-pound fuselage can lift off thousands of feet into the air and stay there for several hours, but it’s a pretty complex series of procedures, requiring pilots to read out several checklists before every takeoff, and not in an absent-minded way, either. Questions need to be answered out loud. Parts of the dashboard need to be pointed to. Would you feel comfortable stepping aboard a plane whose pilots decided to skip all of that?
Insurance agents utilize their own checklists, like the coverage checklist that ensures the client has all the coverage he or she needs. Why not ensure that your employees are doing everything they need to do? (5:22) In the course of a busy day, it is not implausible for your employees to have literally a thousand little things to do. This amount of complexity will eventually overwhelm anyone. Throw in some deadlines, interruptions, and other stressors, and people naturally begin to simplify just to think. Sometimes, to simplify is to optimize, but not always. People take shortcuts they shouldn’t take, or they forget certain steps entirely. We can’t think of a better tool than the checklist to help you keep all of this from happening.
Keep a couple of things in mind as you create one. First, if a checklist is a remedy against complexity, do not allow complexity to trickle into it. (10:03) “Retrieve loss runs” is an okay step. “Retrieve loss runs from x carrier by clicking on y box to do z thing” is something else altogether. Try to distill every step to the minimum, and if the step is still complex, you might be due for a separate checklist because you’re cramming too many processes into one. Don’t confuse steps with objectives. “Incentivize retention” is an objective. “Analyze loss runs,” “Review file 120 days beforehand,” and “Reach out to client x times” are actionable steps to that objective.
Second, don’t go at it alone: involve your peers and employees. (17:15) Talk about which procedures are due for a checklist and what the steps ought to be for each one. Get your employees to work together on this: it will force them to reevaluate the way they work and improve it, adjust it, and discover new ways. The outcome of this will surprise you. A checklist you thought would be 20 steps long turns out to require only five, and vice versa. Sometimes, a checklist is impossible to assemble because you realize that you were doing something wrong all along.
Finally, be flexible. No checklist is universal. If it’s applicable 80% of the time, that’s a good checklist in our view. You can create a checklist for each exception, but don’t go crazy with it. This applies to employees, too. It is okay if someone wants to hang on to their extraordinary way of doing something, but they better have a good reason why.
Ultimately, the checklist forces your agency to define what success looks like. If it were up to us to design your checklist, the next thing you would do would be to check into the Digital Broker LinkedIn group and tell us what you think about this episode and checklists generally. How have you put them to work for you? Come tell us about it here.
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