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Compliance versus Complacency - Checklists

Updated: May 28, 2020

Recently I read a posting by Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) in which he stated “Just because you’re in compliance, doesn’t mean you are out of danger”. I don’t know about you, but my compliance hackles rose up on the back of my neck! So I did what any good risk manager would do, I started digging into the statement and looking at the facts.

Coincidentally, one of my favorite new book sources (Book Freak) sent out an email about one of my favorite business books, The Checklist Manifesto. What better area to look into for complacency than checklists? I have always been a big proponent of checklists and after meeting author Atul Gawande I became an even bigger fan.

So as we take a second look at the controls we have put in place to mitigate our strategic objective risks, are checklist controls an area in which our front line has become complacent? Are they filling out the checklists from memory and literally just checking the box?

One of my clients kept failing one of their checklist controls. When we took a deeper dive into the checklist – there were 60 items that they needed to check. The control was doomed to failure upon its design. We looked over all the elements they were checking and determined that only 3 were critical. The remainder of the items we were able to automate and validate at other points in the process.

Dr. Gawande says it best when he states that “Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything--a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps--the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”

The checklist that the pilot filled out in my video contains around 20 items. They are critical to the success of his mission – flying his plane safely from point a to point b. The pilot thinks his checklist is a necessity because it keeps him and his passengers safe.

What are your thoughts on checklists? Are they a necessity or a nuisance? Will you be reviewing your checklists to see if they have led to complacency? I’d love to know your thoughts.

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