Proven Checklist for Business Success – How Do You Put Them Into Action?5 min read

I receive a regular email titled, “Management Intelligence…… from Edward de Bono and Robert Heller” (( . Their most recent email was “Management Intelligence: A proven checklist for business success”. Here is the checklist they provided:


  1. IMPROVE basic, measured efficiencies continuously?
  2. THINK simply and directly about what you are doing and why?
  3. BEHAVE towards others as you wish them to behave towards you?
  4. EVALUATE each business and business opportunity with total, fact-based objectivity?
  5. CONCENTRATE on what you do well?
  6. ASK questions ceaselessly about performance, markets and objectives?
  7. MAKE MONEY- knowing that, if you don’t, you can’t make anything else?
  8. ECONOMISE always seeking Limo (Least Input for Most Output)?
  9. FLATTEN the organisation to spread authority and responsibility?
  10. ADMIT to your own failings and shortcomings and correct them?
  11. SHARE the benefits of success with all those who helped to achieve it?
  12. TIGHTEN up the organisation wherever and whenever you can because familiarity breeds slackness?
  13. ENABLE everybody to optimise their individual and group contribution?
  14. SERVE your customers with all their requirements to standards of perceived excellence in quality?
  15. TRANSFORM performance by innovating creatively in products and processes including the processes of management?

Again from this email concerning this list: “These questions penetrate to the heart of successful management. They have passed, and will pass, the test of time.

This list looks a lot like others I have seen, and certainly many entries would be on such a list that I might create. But, whenever I see lists like this, I say to myself, “Great, but how do I do this?” Lets just take number 15, for example,  “Transform performance by innovating….”. What business processes do I put in place that assure that these results are regularly and sustainably produced? Or, what approaches and tools do I deploy to achieve number 8, “Economize…” ? Again, are there tools and approaches available that assure the we meet number 13, “ENABLE everybody to optimize their individual and group contribution?”

Without wasting further time with rhetorical questions, let me point out that in fact there are well-developed, well-tested systems of business processes available for a manager who wants and needs to achieve positive answers to questions like those posed by Heller. These include Lean ((Lean is the American name for the Toyota Production System, also more broadly the Toyota Business System. There is no standards organization for lean principles and practices. A good starting point is Womack, James P., and Daniel T. Jones. Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated. 2nd ed. Free Press, 2003 and The Lean Enterprise Institute)) , Baldrige ((Baldrige National Quality Program Criteria)) , EFQM ((European Foundation for Quality Management)) , or ISO9001-2008 ((International Organization for Standardization ISO9001-2008 Quality management systems — Requirements)). None of these are simple cookbooks of management. The reality of management problems is much more complex and requires some subtlety in thinking through how to apply the principles and practices of these management systems to the individual enterprise. Nevertheless, these management systems provide the tools to systematically achieve results that answer the 15 points of this checklist, and more.

There is something else that interests me about lists like Heller’s 15. These lists almost always contain a provocative overlap between the attributes and skills of the manager and those of the organization. This overlap produces an opportunity (and responsibility) for the manager to drive the development and maintenance of these attributes in the organization. On the other hand, without the manager embodying a number of these attributes and skills, the organization will not come to embody them. In this case the manager’s performance is a negative driver of performance.

Lets take a look at a couple of Heller’s 15 as examples of this overlap phenomenon.

Number 4, “EVALUATE each business and business opportunity with total, fact-based objectivity?” calls for a fact-based approach to business. If the manager does not act, think, and talk in a fact-based manner consistently and rigorously, the organization will veer off this path quickly in response. If a manager does not gather facts and make decisions based on facts ((Here is an interesting point about “facts”. Facts are by definition observable and independent of any individual. Facts exist in the shared space of the organization; they do not belong to any person, but to the organization.)) the organization will note this and begin to act in a fashion consistent with whatever decision making process the manager uses. This is a simple fact of life. People will do as the boss does, not as the boss says. On the other hand, if the manager is fact-centered in decision making, the organization will respond in like.

Number 13, “ENABLE everybody to optimise their individual and group contribution?”, is another interesting example of the overlap between the personal approaches and performance of the manager and and those of the organization. Central to every high-performance organization is the challenge to create an environment in which every person can and does make a fully engaged and productive contribution to the organization. The manager’s involvement in cross-functional team-based work expressly embodies this approach. After all, the people who report to a general manager (CEO, divisional manager, owner) are by definition cross-functional and they should solve the organization’s challenges as a cross-functional team. If the manager carries out his/her work in a cross-functional team-based manner, this will drive and support similar approaches throughout the organization. And, similar to our earlier discussion, failure here will support traditional management methods of command and control.

This overlap between the individual and the organizational is a great resource for the manager who wants to build a high-performance organization. They can make a direct contribution to the transformation by learning new approaches and skills and applying them in their day-to-day work. And, really, the principles and practices are quite straight forward. It requires more persistence than genius to build high-performance organizations. The transformation process is not like building a rocket where every part must work perfectly to even get off the launch pad.