The Top Reasons Managers Don’t Do Checklists

Most managers, experts, and employees would agree that checklists help them be better at their jobs. Yet 80% of checklists don’t get completed on schedule unless upper management is constantly riding the teams to get them completed, which is not easy to do. 

What is worse, when the checklists do get completed, the majority of those checklists are pencil-whipped lies. Pencil whipping is when a person just completes the checklist by saying yes, yes, yes as fast as they can.  We have seen pencil whip numbers over 80% where we are tracking that stat. 

I’ve been asking myself why this happens for over 10 years. I’ve come up with a couple of reasons. The answers are Ego and Time. 


Atul Gawande talks about ego in his book, The Checklist Manifesto, in regards to surgeons not wanting to use The Safe Surgery Checklist. To summarize, Gawande states that there isn’t a group of people that are better trained, have as much experience, or are better paid than surgeons. It is the surgeon’s ego that was stopping them from using the checklist, they were insulted, that after X amount of years in school and in private practice that someone would want them to use a checklist.

The Safe Surgery Checklist was so effective at reducing: surgical mistakes, infections, needless suffering, costs, and deaths that eventually even the most staunch opponents could not ignore the results. The data drove the adoption of the checklist because you couldn’t argue against the numbers.  

We see similar results with our clients.  

Atul Gawande states the following in his Ted Talk, “Checklists Make Experts Better.” 

We encounter managers every day that believe in systems, checklists, etc.. when they are for other people but not themselves.

Those same managers don’t want personal oversight, they don’t want more systems that apply to them, they don’t care about the data that is collected, they believe that their experience in the industry is more valuable than the benefits of using a checklist for a quick double-check.  This is in line with how the surgeons thought.  

People are confused about the value of their personal experience and the little detailed tasks that need to be completed to do a good job.  Having a lot of experience doesn’t negate the value of doing the little things correctly. Experience and tasks are mutually exclusive.

What does personal experience really mean? Experience is important in one main area, weird one-off situations.  

When you have worked at a job for 20 years you have seen more weird situations than someone who has only worked for 1 year.  So when weird situations occur, a person with more experience might do a better job at handling them.  

The only way to know if your business is ready for today’s shift is to use a checklist and physically walk around your business and inspect what you expect.

I always use the following example to drive this point home.  You can’t divine the temperature of the walk-in because you have worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years.  You have to physically walk over to the refrigerator and check the temperature. 

The surgeons were oftentimes missing one step in the surgery process and that one step, the detailed task, caused horrible outcomes and trumped their years and years of experience. 

When it comes to checklists, we really need to focus our coaching our teams on being systems driven operators. Systems trump experience every time.   A person is hired for their experience but our business runs off of systems and you are expected to follow those systems.  

Also, checklists provide upper management with the most valuable thing you can have in business, data.  The data you are collecting allows us to really understand what is happening in the locations, to identify issues we didn’t even know existed, and most importantly to make better decisions more quickly.  

To sum up, checklists are tools that make experts better and you should focus on creating a culture that holds every team member accountable for using checklists to run better operations.  


The other reason why managers don’t complete checklists is easier for me to understand, time. 

  • The time of day you have to complete a checklist is generally right before you open for business, it’s the busiest time of the shift. 
  • The time it takes to do a checklist is often longer than the person completing the checklist can spare and it starts to affect other job duties

Most set-up or preparation checklists can only be accurately completed right before the business opens for the shift.  There are items on the checklist that are being prepped or set up that aren’t going to be complete until right before the doors open to customers.  

In reality, the time when the checklist needs to be completed, usually by a manager, is also when the manager is busiest. They are working with the team to get set up and ready as well.  I know that when I was opening the restaurant, back in the day, the time right before opening was spent just dealing with vital stuff.  Making sure we were ready, making sure everyone showed up to work, dealing with the time clock, scheduling, set-up, maintenance, pre-shift meetings, deliveries, etc…  To ask a manager to not do those things to do a checklist is unrealistic.  

The above tasks that managers face every day are vital to the operation and success of the business. They are also how managers justify not doing their checklists. It’s not that the checklists aren’t vital, they are just less vital. 

The next time constraint has to do with the amount of time it takes to complete checklists. I have worked with tons of clients that get checklist crazy. They get punch drunk with power and want to put every single control and question into the checklist. The result is a checklist that takes so long to complete that even on the best day the manager wouldn’t be able to get it done accurately. 

What is the answer to this quandary?

It is OpsAnalitica’s Real-time Collaboration.  We have to shift the mindset of our businesses that managers are the only people who can complete checklists.

Real-time Collaboration allows multiple people to complete a checklist at the same time, like a Google Sheet or Office 365 Spreadsheet.  With real-time collaboration, a manager and their team can divide up a single checklist and share the workload.  

There are many benefits to using real-time collaboration:

  1. When you have employees doing checklists you are investing in those employees’ success and continual training.  
  2. You cut the time it takes to complete the checklist which makes it easier for the team to get them completed. It might take the manager an hour or 4 employees 15 minutes. 
  3. When a business builds a checklist it is because they have identified items that they know make them more successful. When your team actually follows through and does a checklist accurately, your business performs better. 

OpsAnalitica is the only checklist platform that offers real-time collaboration and in my humble opinion, it is the biggest game-changing feature that we offer.  It doesn’t cost anything extra, it just requires that your managers get better at delegating, a skill that every manager needs to be great at.  

If you would like to learn more about OpsAnalitica, please schedule a demo by clicking here.

Tommy Yionoulis

I've been in the restaurant industry for most of my adult life. I have a BSBA from University of Denver Hotel Restaurant school and an MBA from the same. When I wasn't working in restaurants I was either doing stand-up comedy, for 10 years, or large enterprise software consulting. I'm currently the Managing Director of OpsAnalitica and our Inspector platform was originally conceived when I worked for one of the largest sandwich franchisors in the country. You can reach out to me through LinkedIn.

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