Be like Santa, even without red suit, beard

Friday, December 14, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 50

So you’ve got this guy who shows up every year wearing a funny outfit, smoking a pipe and apparently fond of consuming mass quantities of milk and cookies. He’s not really what you might consider a great role model for rational and healthy behavior.

However, there’s one thing he does that you might want to consider emulating. He observes people during their sleeping and waking hours to determine what they are doing. Then he develops a fairly straightforward list documenting his observations.

Just to be certain, he checks his list twice in a concerted effort to determine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice since he last came around. In its simplest form, the list is all about accountability – and accountability is an important element of any well-run business.

Santa has a lot of people to monitor. If you find yourself in a similar situation and you desire to significantly increase the odds that important things will be done on a timely basis, why not make a list like Santa? It’s simple, it’s easy for everyone to understand (unlike some complex planning documents) and it’s a good way to keep track of who’s being naughty and who’s being nice.

I don’t want to discourage you from using sophisticated planning methods to document and monitor what needs to be done at work. But sometimes a simple list works quite nicely for making sure the right things are getting done during the year.

Make a list for each person who reports to you. The list should include at least three pieces of information: The name of the person, a bullet-point description of each thing to be done, and an agreed upon deadline for completing each item.

Oh, it’s a good idea to put little boxes to the left of each item on the list so you can experience the satisfaction of checking off each completed item.

Most humans come into the world hardwired to avoid loud noises, avoid high places with ledges, avoid snakes and spiders, and enjoy checking off little boxes on lists.

Just kidding about that last one.

Checking off boxes falls more in the category of learned behavior than evolutionary survival programming. It’s behavior that most people have learned to enjoy. Of course, you and the other person should both keep a copy of the list.

Unlike Santa, I would hold off on the observe-them-while-they’re-sleeping thing. That might be considered a bit intrusive in the context of a workplace relationship. However, you probably should check up on things more often than once a year.

Perhaps you can touch base with your direct reports every week or so to update the list. In terms of accountability, it is a bit hard to explain away a bunch of unchecked boxes on an agreed upon list.

I’m going to stop writing now and develop my own list of important things to be done. It will come in handy if my boss starts wondering if I am being naughty or nice. Why don’t you join me?

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through