Employees Don’t Want To Use Checklists

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about check lists: I had created a list of every task that they do on a daily basis. I feel like it’s a good idea, but some of my employees feel as if it is childish.

I am the only front office manager (and very new at this!) for 3 offices (located about 30-45 minutes away from each other), so obviously I can not be in 3 places at once or even in the same day.To make sure everyone is doing what they’re suppose to, I had created a list of every task that they do on a daily basis. I feel like it’s a good idea, but some of my employees feel as if it is childish.

I wouldn’t mind getting rid of the checklist if they did what they were supposed to. I stopped enforcing it over the last week or so, but I am having a meeting with them on Wednesday to discuss this issue.How would you suggest going about this? Do you think that checklist isn’t needed? In our meeting I would like to refresh with them what their main duties are over the course of each day. Thank you for any advice you can give me!

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

You’re in a difficult situation, with offices being so far apart. It seems too, based on other information you provided (not included here)that the employees are challenging you at every turn. The specific issue you wrote about involved checklists. My initial feeling is that checklists developed by someone else are usually resented by those who have to do them. Having them develop it might have been a good idea at the beginning. But, the checklist isn’t so problematic as the way it is being used.

If you created a checklist as a template to remind people of key steps in a crucial task, then it is a helpful tool. Or even if it hangs on the wall as a reminder of chores, like in a restaurant. But, if you are requiring them to “check off” or initial tasks as they are done, especially mundane or maintenance type tasks, and fax it or email it back to you, I think that’s excessive. I can understand why, out of frustration, you developed it.

However, it really isn’t practical on a daily basis as a requirement for doing work. It looks too much like one of those lists you see on the door of public bathroom where the custodian signs that the room was cleaned! Some thoughts:

1. Your job is to manage the offices in the way established by your GOM or at least approved by her. You will find life to be much easier if you do not try to establish new policies and rules, no matter how good you think they are, unless you first get her approval.Looking back over my supervisory time I have to admit that I created a lot of work and stress for myself in the name of improving things! It wasn’t that I was wrong–I was right that the ways I established were better. But often after I left a section, things reverted back to the old ways and no one higher up seemed to care. I was told one time, “Now that you’re gone nothing is being done on time. The new guy doesn’t make them get anything done.” I said that was a shame and that he ought to say something to the manager about it. The complaining person said, “Oh well…it’s not worth the grief and we can make it work.” So, the bottom line was that I was the only one willing to push it. I’m not suggesting you never try to improve things. Just that you should not do it on your own without clear support ahead of time.

2. Before you meet with your teams, take this concern to your GOM again–I know you have already. Ask the GOM if she has concerns about the way you’re handling situations, for example, establishing a checklist. Ask her how other office managers have handled situations and gotten the work done on time and consistently.Be insistent about knowing if you’re doing something she really doesn’t think needs to be done. Show her the list if she doesn’t have it handy and ask her if there are some items on it she doesn’t care about. Once you’ve established what things must be done and you have her support of it, ask her if she has suggestions for doing it and what sanctions there should be if they are not done.

3. What is the negative result to the business if employees at the other offices do not do the tasks on the checklist? How does it hurt business? Who is harmed by it? What would happen if they were never done? What if they were done only every other day? What if they checked that the tasks were done but didn’t do them?I ask those questions so you can be sure in your mind about what must be done and why. Sometimes daily chores have no reason beyond the fact that someone wants them done. Other times they really do serve a purpose. Draw the link to the business or to the welfare of clients, the doctor or someone else of significance. Your GOM is more likely to support an activity that effects business rather than one that is just for the sake of regularity. There’s nothing wrong with insisting upon work being done, even if employees don’t agree. But, be able to explain WHY it should be done so you can also explain it to your manager.

4. What sanctions will happen if the employees never do the task or continue to refuse to do it? If there are no sanctions and no one will be fired, demoted or sanctioned in any other way there really is no point in them doing something they don’t want to do.Based on the other information you provided, your GOM knows they have refused to do certain tasks, but said she would handle it–although nothing has been done. That is one reason I wonder if she thinks the list is unnecessary or thinks it contains things that aren’t needed. My personal work ethic is that if I’m told to do a task, I do it because I’m getting paid to do it. But, if your GOM doesn’t feel that way about work, neither will employees.It may help to remind the GOM of this: If she and you can’t depend upon the employees doing a basic task when you ask, how can you depend upon them in other ways, when you’re not around to require it? Work dependability applies to all work, not just work the employee agrees should be done or wants to do.You’ve mentioned in other correspondence that the employees say they are too busy to do certain things. That and the way they wrote it to you says to me they are saying, “This is a waste of our time.” If an employee can say that without fear of retribution, when it appears they are merely making excuses, there is no incentive for them to do work they dislike.

5. When you go to your team meeting, consider asking your GOM to go with you as a monitor and moral support. Whether she is there or not, try the direct approach.Say something like, “OK, the first thing to discuss is how to make sure required tasks get done. I made the checklist thinking that would help, but apparently it doesn’t. I’ve talked to Stella about it and she says those things must be done. So, what is the next step?”I imagine they will say they are too busy to do the work. Emphasize that the tasks aren’t optional. You may not have to have an “or else” conversation. Just keep insisting. “I’m sorry Jan, but they must be done.” “The GOM is insistent that they must be done.” We’ll simply have to find a way to allocate time so they can be done.”Consider suggesting that you can come over daily for awhile to see if there are ways you can see for finding time to get the tasks done. (You can bet they won’t like that!) Ask the senior employee if she would put her experience to work to think of how the tasks can be accomplished in spite of how busy people are. Perhaps you can find out what tasks are being done that take time away from the requirements.

But still, it may come down to, “or else.” So, you’d better know what the “or else” would be.All the way around this is an unfortunate situation. You’re dealing with former coworkers who have resentment and probably would resent anyone in your position. I’ve mentioned before that sometimes you can identify the people who might be more supportive of you and focus on keeping them aligned with your ideas in positive ways. It may have an effect on the others.

Finally, here are some general guidelines:

–Think of the long road of work and working with these people. Try not to draw lines in the dirt over relatively minor things. But, if it’s important enough to do that, stick with it and keep at your GOM about it. Invoke your GOM’s name as the person you are representing.

–Find things to appreciate or just to observe and not correct. Even though it’s important to get work done, there are other important things. Avoid being obsessive about requirements or requests to the exclusion of everything else.

–If things are really a problem, maybe you need to switch office locations for a few weeks or a day or two a week. If the tasks can get done while you are there, they can get done anytime. 4. You can’t do this on your own. Make sure your GOM agrees with you and supports you and find out how far she’ll go to support you.I wish there was some easy solution I could give you, but of course there isn’t. This is going to take some time and may be unpleasant before the new methods are firmly established.Best wishes to you as you deal with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.