The Hazards of the Pencil Whip

Whether personally or professionally, it is likely that all of us have experienced pencil whipping at some point. Pencil whipping means that you sign off on something without giving it the full review or inspection that it needs before approval. The most common example in our daily lives is marking the checkbox and agreeing to the terms and service agreement for any app, website, or membership. Very few people take the time to read those before agreeing, which means that is a personal form of pencil whipping.

In business, pencil whipping is far more dangerous and goes beyond just the signature on a document. Pencil whipping can include breezing through equipment inspections or safety checklists without doing the due diligence those tasks really require. This has the potential to lead to a lack of quality control in products, unplanned downtime, or even a safety incident.

Where to Watch for Pencil Whipping

If a safety incident or equipment breakdown occurs, your root cause analysis may lead you back to a pencil whipped inspection or report. These are the key areas to watch for pencil whipping before something bad happens:

  • Orientation and Training – Experienced employees may pass through training without fully participating. Even if no details in the training have changed since they last took it, full participation is necessary to stay on top of the required skills and certifications.
  • Safety Inspections – For equipment operators, this may be a pre-op inspection that they rush through because they’re on a tight timeline to get the work done. Truck drivers have to do pre and post-trip daily inspections that may get pencil whipped for the same reason. However, these safety checks are essential for keeping equipment operational and preventing accidents.
  • Preventive Maintenance Inspections – If something seems to be working fine, it’s easy to let your guard down and assume all of the components are in good working order.
  • Inventory – Anyone who has ever updated an inventory count will tell you it’s quite the task. If you have a large storeroom with similar parts and tools in different areas, employees may try to save time by doing inventory from memory. They may be pretty sure that there are three belts stored in another space, but that’s enough to greatly extend equipment downtime if you need a belt, the inventory is wrong, and you have to wait on a replacement.

Why Does Pencil Whipping Happen?

You may already have an idea of the answer to this question based on the examples above. It may be a matter of carelessness or laziness, but that’s often not the case. Typically, your employees are trying to save time because they have a lot to do or are under time constraints to get the job done.

For example, maintenance technicians are weighing several things to determine the priorities in their day. What are the overall maintenance goals? Are there mission-critical machines that need attention? Will they get to everything on their list for that day? Can some of their preventive maintenance tasks be put off to tomorrow? Do they have enough time to complete the paperwork of all their work orders at the end of the day?

While pencil whipping is dangerous and can cause serious issues to go undetected, your employees are likely just trying to do their job the best they can.

What Can You Do to Improve?

There are many ways to work towards eliminating pencil whipping, but these are the best ones to start with.

1. Be Mindful of Metrics or Quotas

If your manufacturing team has a hard-set quota to meet, they may focus on that and let quality control slip. The same goes for your maintenance team. Technicians may try to improve the metrics you’ve set as part of your maintenance strategy. It’s important to set metrics, goals, or quotas, but you must also communicate the importance of maintaining quality and safety even if it means not reaching the goal.

2. Communication

Management typically has a big picture view and understanding behind the goals or metrics they set. You provide your employees with the company or department goals, but they often don’t have a deeper understanding of them. When your technicians are thinking through their day and deciding what to prioritize, they may not be on the same page as you. Communicating the company’s priorities and the reason behind the tasks or goals employees are given goes a long way in reducing pencil whipping.

3. Remove Inefficient Processes

Truck drivers who have to do pre and post-trip inspections every day will be more likely to pencil whip the inspection if it’s a cumbersome process. Streamlining forms, inspections, and checklists by going digital improves the process and saves your employees time. One of the main causes of pencil whipping is time, so saving time with software makes a big difference.

4. Increase Data and Visibility

Businesses that still operate from a paper-based system don’t have immediate access to their data. This is another benefit of implementing software, as you can see your real-time data and easily pull auto-populated reports. Now, you’re able to watch your data, spot trends, and catch issues before they cause equipment breakdown or an incident.

Take Charge of Pencil Whipping with Redlist

No matter where it happens, pencil whipping is bad for your business. It leads to inaccurate data to make decisions from and creates the potential for serious consequences. But, the key thing to remember is that it is very rarely intentional. Your employees are simply doing the best they can with the time, information, and systems that they have. So, providing support in the form of saving time, communicating information, and improving systems with software can help you take charge of pencil whipping. Start today by creating accountability and empowering your team to own their role and the importance of their work.

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