How to Improve Individual Performance

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Nov 11

Why checklists are important

Lowell Wood, America’s most prolific inventor with more patents than even Thomas Edison, says, “If you make a mistake, you should not only not make that mistake again but also don’t make that class of mistake again. That’s an exceedingly important concept to improve human performance at the individual scale.”

Mr Wood currently has 1,085 US utility patents with 3,000 more awaiting adjudication; Mr Edison had 1,084. (Source: Bloomberg Businessweek Oct 26-Nov 1, 2015.)

Reducing the number of mistakes you make as an individual or organization is crucial to not only boosting productivity, earnings and revenues, it’ll also increase your overall satisfaction in your own workflow as well as boost customer/client/supplier confidence and satisfaction with you and your organization.

Here’s a short essay I wrote years ago about not being a “one sigma” business:

      One-Sigma Business Processes      

“Those mundane and tedious little things that, when done
exactly right, with the right kind of attention and intention, form in
their aggregate a distinctive essence, an evanescent quality that
distinguishes every great business you’ve ever done business with from
its more mediocre counterparts whose owners are satisfied to simply get
through the day,” Michael E. Gerber, The E Myth Revisited: Why Most
Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, HarperCollins, NY.

It is the aim of many great manufacturing companies (starting with
Motorola in the 1980s) to remove substantially all error from both their
fabrication and business processes—their goal is to achieve six sigmas;
that is, an error or defect rate that is equal to or less than: (1 –
99.99966%). Looked at another way, this implies that only one in every
294,118 things that a six sigma company does is defective and has to be
either discarded or done again.

Now most service businesses can not possibly come close to matching a
fabrication company. After all, the latter repeat the same process over
and over again—giving them a chance to implement TQM (Total Quality
Management) and constant improvement. Service businesses tend to be far
too variable for the same type of systems and processes to be as
effective as this. But still one has to wonder: first, at what level are
service businesses currently operating and, second, how far they can
push the limits of quality control.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that I miss on average 1.5 meetings per
year; that is, every two years I simply forget, am late for or somehow
miss three scheduled meetings. I have learned over the years to forgive
myself and I ask others to forgive me too. When it happens, I simply
call up that person, apologize and then tell them that they are in a
special group—a small contingent.

You see I work 50 weeks per year, 5.5 days per week and do an average
of ~ 3.75 meetings per day. That means my personal error rate is
.1454545% which works out to a defect rate of 1 in 687.5. So if I
schedule a meeting with you and don’t show up, you are that one special
person out of nearly 700.

More importantly, that equals a personal sigma rating of a bit less
than 0.999 which is not bad and, in any event, is the best that I seem
capable of.

I never fire anyone for making a mistake; if I did that, I would fire
everyone including myself. What I can’t tolerate and have practically
zero patience for is when people make the same mistake over and over
again. So I would suggest that an error rate for a service business
process that is 1 – 0.999 or less would be satisfactory. You can see I
have a ways to go.

I have a kind of international scale that I keep in my head, based
simply on my experience. I think that service businesses like Disney
operate at a pretty high level and can deliver their products and
services in an effective and consistent manner. I would give them a 9.6
on my (arbitrary) International 0-10 Scale. I would give the Ottawa
Senators (a group I founded) a score of 7.5 or about the maximum that an
Ottawa-based company that sells largely into the local community can
achieve. There are limits on local companies simply because they can
never focus the resources on their activities that international firms
like Disney can.

But I suspect that the great majority of the service businesses I
work with in Ottawa operate at a score of less than 1. Let me tell you
why I think that.

Recently, one of our REALTOR teams ordered signs from a local firm
(lets call them Acme) that has been doing signs for us for quite a
while. This REALTOR team is made up of two salespeople, a married couple
(lets name them Bill and Betty). Recently, their business has been
booming: they signed up three new listings and it looked like they were
going to soon have four more. So they ordered ten new “FOR SALE” signs
from Acme—each sign has to have Bill on one side and Betty on the other.

It takes three or four business days to order signs, approve the
artwork and have them delivered. Yet when the signs arrived, it turned
out that the sign company had produced five signs with Bill on both
sides and five with Betty on both sides. Now obviously this is an
atrocious waste—to cover off each of their clients, Bill and Betty would
have to post two signs per property. I mean part of the reason for
being part of a team is that if people can’t reach Betty they can try
Bill and vice versa.

The sign company was good about it; they showed up the next day, took
back the defective signs and promised to put a rush on things.

Two days later, sure enough, they showed up with ten new signs, Bill
on one side and Betty on the other. Only problem was: they forgot to put
the grommets in and the signs were useless. Betty and Bill couldn’t
hang them. So out they came again, took them back and the next day, the
signs were done properly.

Now I suppose one might say this is a trivial problem; but not to
Betty and Bill and not to their clients who depend on them to sell their
properties on a timely basis. There is a human story behind each of
these transactions—people are moving to find work, they are downsizing,
they can no longer afford their homes and need to sell before the Bank
puts a POS (Power of Sale) on their home, they are moving to a
retirement residence, they have bought a condo, … It may seem trivial
but not to the individuals involved.

And it is certainly not trivial when you repeat this type of error throughout the company.

It took Bill and Betty more than two weeks to simply install “FOR
SALE” signs on their new listings, completely unacceptable to their
clients, many of whom were frantic by that point. (Even in the Internet
Age, signs are still one of the most important marketing tools that

I think if service businesses in Ottawa (and elsewhere) actually
started measuring these things, they might find that their defect rate
is as high as 1 – 0.31, which means they are achieving a one-sigma level
of proficiency with an error rate that is, basically, equivalent to two
out of every three things they do are wrong (actually, it is 2 in 2.899
but at that point who cares, it’s pathetic.)

Recently, we have started to use more checklists. It turns out that
simple, easy-to-follow checklists are one of the most effective and
affordable ways to improve performance. You would think, for example,
that a surgeon or OR nurse would not have to be reminded to wash their
hands before operating on you but it turns out they do. Implementing a
simple checklist in hospitals has been show to cut down post operative
infection rates from around 10% to zero. That is a meaningful change.

Imagine if the Acme Sign Company had a checklist that said (among other things): “INSTALL GROMMETS BEFORE DELIVERY”.

If you can’t get your firm to operate at six sigmas, try for three.
The impact on your customer satisfaction level and retention rate will
be fantastic, not to mention the improvement to your bottom (and top)

Prof Bruce

ps Don’t think checklists are important? Be glad that every pilot
and co-pilot, no matter how experienced,  go over their checklists
before every takeoff and landing. Also, when a plane gets into trouble
in-flight, a checklist that is relevant to that emergency may save the
lives of everyone on board. (Astronauts, who train for their missions
for years, use checklists for practically everything. For example,
before they fired up the engine on their lunar module, you can be sure
they would have gone through their checklist. They only had one shot at
getting it right. You could do worse than follow their lead.)

pps here are my simple calcs:

Six Sigma Processes

Six Sigmas 0.9999966
Error Rate 0.0000034
1 in 294,118

One Sigma 0.31
Error Rate 0.69
1 in 1.45
2 in 2.898550725 2
3 in 4.347826087 3

Weeks Worked 50 per year
Days Worked 275 per year 5.5 days per week
No. of Meetings 1031.25 per year 3.75 meetings per day
No. of Meetings Missed 1.5 per year
Error Rate 0.001454545
1 in 687.5
Sigmas 0.999

Here’s a staging your home checklist we use:

Staging Your Home Checklist

Staging is about building your brand and there has never
been a generation more conscious about branding than this one. Branding builds
trust and trust creates the opportunity
to make a sale. Here are my 16 tips on staging a home. Note that we have also
staged office space, even industrial warehouse space (although using a similar
yet different set of rules) to great effect.

De-clutter (remove excess
furniture/create attractive furniture groupings)


Patch, repair and paint walls
(neutral shades that match especially in adjacent rooms) as required

Clean everything (including under

Tidy cupboards

Air out home

Make sure everything works

Cut grass, tidy yard

Wash windows (inside and out) and

Beds made, fresh linens and
towels set out

If you have children, one
designated play zone

If you store surplus things in
the home, one designated storage area only (neat)

Add one memorable design
element such as—elegant-looking (but inexpensive) chandelier, simulated antique
bench with fold up seat for additional storage, hotel-chic towel bars, outside
art-deco awning over entrance or street-facing window, decorative shutters
bordering street facing windows, California shutters instead of curtains,
drapes or blinds in great room…Increase wattage in your lamps to 100 watts per
50 or 60 square feet

Hang compatible art in rooms

Accessorize in groups of three

Don’t spend a lot of money but
do spend enough time on staging

Cut grass

Clean garage and all outdoor
areas/use pressure washer if possible

Weed/use (hand applied) round

Repair railings, deck(s)/stain

Really good garden tidy up

Bruce M
Firestone, broker, Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc

613.422.6757 x 250




Making Impossible Possible

Here’s another checklist we use before and after we get a MLS or ICX listing:



with a Realtor

      Listing Agreement (Form 200)

      Schedule A (Form 160)

      Directions for Offers/Showings to admin (Form

     SPIS – Residential, Condo, Water/Septic

      Individual Identification Information
Record (FINTRAC)

            OREB – Property data input sheet

            Buyer Representation Agreement

            Confirmation of Cooperation and

            Agreement of Purchase and Sale

            Offer to Lease and/or Lease

            Amendment Agreement

            Termination Agreement and Mutual

            Notice of Fulfillment of
Condition/Waiver of Condition

            Seller Customer Service Agreement—for
property not listed

            Mortgage/Details Verification

– Requirements for New Listing

      Consent Form to Verbally Disclose
Personal Information

      CASL email permission form

      Add email address to newsletter list




            Photos – preliminary

            Photos – professional                                                                  


            Boxes/packing supplies                                                                                      


            Add images                                                                                            

            Create info package                                                                                

            Add info package to MLS                                                              

            Order/place sign                                                                                      



            Add to website                                                                                        


            Linked In                                                                                      

            Facebook page                                                                                      

            Facebook ads                                                                                        

            Google ad words                                                                                    




            Get deposit                                                                                  


            Change MLS to conditionally


            Paperwork to HQ                                                                                    

            Inform lawyers                                                                                        





            Other due diligence                                                                                

            Waive/fulfill conditions                                                                            

            Change MLS to sold                                                                                

            Reminder for all parties including
lawyers 1 week prior                              


            Thank yous                                                                                            

            Send newsletter                                                      

            Follow up                                                                                    

Spread The Word

About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.