Anyone who is familiar with my work or my publications knows that job aids are near and dear to my heart. Â My third book (Job Aid Basics) is about the subject. Â Any serious performance student or consultant knows about the power of job aidsâ€”about how they are a cheap and effective way of improving performance. Â Well, there is a great new book out by Surgeon Atul Gawande called The Checklist Manifesto.
Checklists are just one example of a job aid. Â What is a job aid? Â A job aid is a device or tool used to improve memory or confidence on the job and thus overall performance. Â A wrench is not a job aid (itâ€™s just a tool). Â But a checklist (which reminds us of what to do), a recipe with steps (so we donâ€™t add the eggs too soon), a trouble-shooting guide on how to figure out why the car doesnâ€™t startâ€”these are all job aids.
Gawande writes about a number of examples in this great book but his first primary examples involves healthcare. Â He examines the case of the Johns Hopkins ICU where using a simple 5 bullet checklist, the staff reduced central line infections from 11% to 0% saving an estimated 43 infections, 8 lives and 2 million dollars per year. Â Gawande and a team then went to a number of hospitals around the world and tried the same approach from rural Tanzania to Seattle. Â Using a 19-point checklist for surgery, they found that EVERY hospital experienced a significant drop in post-operative complications and deaths. Â In the 6 months after the checklist was introduced complications fell by an average of 36% and deaths fell by an average of 47%. Â This was no new technology, no other major changes or influx of talent or resourcesâ€”just the use of the checklist during surgery.
Performance consultants know about job aids. Â Joe Harless gets credit for having coined the term. Â Job aids are often a faster, cheaper alternative to training. Â Theyâ€™re an underutilized way of improving performance and a useful tool in the performance consultantâ€™s tool box.
Gawande has done us performance consultants a tremendous favor. Â Heâ€™s got a significant following (staff in the Obama White House look at his writings, both this book and his previous one Better about improving performance). Â Dr. Gawande has provided very specific, tangible and quantifiable examples about how performance can be radically improved with even just simple tools or approaches. Â For all the clients out there who want to throw training at the problem or rehire a work force or change the bonus structure, Gawandeâ€™s work is a useful tool to help us make the case for a performance-based approach to improvement.