Help your company and employees look professional in the eyes of your customers.

You could see and hear me coming from four blocks down the street. Just follow the smoke trail and listen for the coughing and chugging. My truck was in dire need of attention. Once the problem grew to an embarrassingly noticeable level, I decided to tackle it.

As an LMP, I'm quite capable of diagnosing and solving just about any mechanical problem known to man. All I needed to do was tune this baby up and we'd be rolling again. Under the hood I found a bewildering array of wires, modules and sensors. “Welcome to the electronic age of auto mechanics,” I muttered to myself. It was time to call in the professionals.

I chugged into Andy Granatelli's Tune-Up Masters, a franchise shop specializing in - you guessed it - tune-ups (now some of you know how long ago all this took place). I handed the keys to this young, high-school-aged kid whose job it was, I assumed, to shuffle vehicles in and out of the shop as well as empty the office trash cans. He informed me that the company's procedure always included a complete tune-up. I replied that I thought the problem was in the carburetor.

“If we're going to guarantee our work, we're going to give it a complete tune-up,” he quipped.

“OK,” I said, as I felt my wallet beginning to shudder. “It has to be done, so let's get on with it.” I left the truck with him and distracted myself for a couple of hours, awaiting the report from the professionals.

So Easy, Even A Kid Can Do It!

When I returned, my truck was purring like a kitten - better, even, than when I first bought it from a nice old gentleman who only drove it to bingo games on the weekend. The mechanic who performed this miracle? None other than this kid with the broom.

Good grief! My mechanical prowess had been upstaged by a barely pubescent teenager. How could that be? Then he explained exactly how he did it by going over his checklist. This shop followed a checklist for every procedure they performed. By following the checklist, he made sure that every component was up to par in order to isolate the items that were out of spec.

I did have a carburetor problem, but he also found a fouled sensor that I knew nothing about. This was a watershed moment for me as I learned the power of a checklist.

Right about now you're thinking, “Great idea! We're going to start using checklists in the field.” I'm glad you're having that thought, but there's more.

Some years later I entered the air-conditioning world as a replacement salesman. (No, I don't have to use some mollycoddling, watered-down synonym for salesman, but that's fodder for another column.) I didn't know much about selling air-conditioning, but I loved the idea of selling “cool” in Texas. I turned to master sales coach Charlie Greer and began listening to his training tapes.

To my surprise, there wasn't a secret formula for sales. He offered no special incantation that would cause my customer to hand me signed blank checks. He described a process - a checklist - where he would begin his home inspection at the thermostat, regardless of where the customer felt the problem was. This allowed him to take charge and put the customer at ease because it presented a professional “I've-done-this-before-so-I-know-what-to-do” image.

“I always start at the thermostat,” he'd say. Charlie has sold more than a million dollars of residential replacements in a single year, so am I going to laugh at him for following a checklist?

At this point I think I should tell you that check lists are not my natural style. I'm hard-headed and rebel against authority. Mom gave up on me long ago and LaVonne has learned how to manipulate my hard-headedness to get things done without making a list. Like a member of a 12-step group, I have to remind myself every day that lists are going to help me be better. If I can learn to benefit from lists, anyone can.

I Don't Need No Stinkin' List; I'm A Professional

An airline captain would certainly fit the stereotype of a professional. Whether they're crop dusting or flying transatlantic 747s, pilots use lists. A commercial airline pilot may see 750-1,000 annual hours of flying time, most of it in only one or two types of aircraft. They can probably recite the list from memory, but they check it anyway. The fact is, if they failed to check their list, they would be characterized as unprofessional.

Lists keep you on track. Think of your budget as a checklist. Each item is something that requires attention. If you don't occasionally check them, you risk budget bloat and may find yourself selling without knowing your costs. This dangerous combination is like trying to launch a plane with the flaps down - or is it up? Where's my list?

No department justifies lists more than your human resources department. Yes, even if you have only one employee, you have a human resources department. Your list will remind you to mail those W-2s so your employees can file their taxes by the 15th … um, I'll be right back; I need to check something!

Other HR lists would cover background checks, licensing, contractual obligations and more. You could save yourself, and your company, grief and expense by simply checking the box that says “Have you ever stolen a company truck and materials to perform unlicensed and uninsured repairs after hours for your boss's customers?”

Keep Those Calls Coming

Did you place your advertising order on time? Did it include your phone number? Following your marketing checklist could prevent that slow time from catching you off guard.

Are your service trucks properly stocked and serviced? You or your manager should have a routine where you actually check things like maintenance records, cleanliness of the trucks and everything else that goes with being safe and productive. By following your list, you're more likely to spot the problems before they cost you money or time. Even if you're like me and are easily distracted by . . . um . . . what was I saying? I did send those W-2s, didn't I?

Your sales process (sales is a process, you know) should follow a checklist. A few weeks ago I went through the McDonald's drive-through. The phrase “Do you want fries with that?” has become part of our culture because McDonald's created a list for every process, including the sales process.

When Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, died, she left over $1.5 billion (that's “B” for billion) to the Salvation Army. Do you think the Salvation Army appreciates McDonald's lists?

When a customer calls your office, what happens? When you dispatch the call, what happens? When your tech arrives at your customer's home, what happens? The bigger question is: How do you teach your people about what should happen? Without a list, how can you know that everyone is consistently taught the proper methods?

Lists are a critical part of systemizing your business. It's easier to manage - and delegate - with a system, and a system is first chronicled in a list. Perhaps inability to delegate is the stumbling block that holds you back from the success you deserve. Step one is to create a list of what you do. Then, just set the flaps up . . . or down . . . whatever the list says, and take off!

To help you start your list of lists, I'm moving a “Service Call” checklist to the “Freebies” section at You may be amazed at how many steps should be properly completed before rolling off the lot.