What Is Pencil Whipping & How Can You Avoid It?

Be honest. How often do you really read the terms and conditions? In all likelihood, you sign off plenty of things without a thorough review process. Today alone you’ve probably agreed to allow cookie tracking (or elected to opt out) on a handful of websites as you’ve browsed.

This hands-off approach to documents is called pencil whipping and it can have serious consequences for businesses. The more essential the document the higher the potential risks of signing it without a thorough review.  

What is pencil whipping

Pencil whipping means signing a document or signing off on a decision without carrying out the appropriate review process. In a business context, pencil whipping can expose organizations to various types of risks. Rather than helping streamline time-consuming processes, it often creates more rework and introduces new expenses.

Where does pencil whipping occur? 

Any organization can experience pencil whipping and its consequences. Here are some business processes where employees may feel tempted to skip reviewing documents or data.

  • Preventive maintenance: Managing a preventive maintenance program involves carrying out countless equipment inspections, facility audits, quality checks, and process reviews. When technicians pencil whip through these preventive maintenance tasks, they run the risk of experiencing incidents like sudden breakdowns
  • Safety inspections: This is an especially risky type of pencil whipping. Treating OSHA regulations like a nice-to-have or speeding through safety checks. If pencil whipping leads to a serious incident, your organization could face costly and reputation-damaging legal action. 
  • Inventory management: Inaccurate inventory counts can break your budget and take a serious toll on your team’s productivity. Unfortunately, inventory checks are often tedious work that encourages employees to pencil whip and get tasks over with. 
  • Hiring: Pencil whipping can even occur during the recruiting and hiring process if you give resumés just a cursory glance or neglect to follow up with references. 
  • Training certifications: Here’s another type of pencil whipping that may sound familiar. When employees skip through training programs to save time and tedium, they may miss out on essential information. 

What are the consequences of pencil whipping

Here are some of the immediate and long-term consequences of continual pencil whipping. 

  • Equipment failure: Inaccurate data or falsified documents can leave critical risk factors unaddressed. Assets may suddenly break down, causing unplanned downtime and imposing significant expenses. 
  • Unscheduled downtime: When critical equipment breaks down, it disrupts maintenance schedules, brings production to a halt, and can wreak havoc on your budget. 
  • A culture of dishonesty and corner cutting: Pencil whipping is most dangerous when it becomes a bad habit across the organization. The practice is often just one example of widespread non-compliance that puts organizations at risk every day. 

Understanding and preventing pencil whipping

Cutting down on pencil whipping starts with understanding the underlying factors that contribute to it and all the things that make consistent pencil whipping so dangerous for maintenance teams

Why pencil whipping happens

Your maintenance team doesn’t whip pencils because they’re lazy. Documents get signed without the appropriate review for several reasons, often resulting from underlying workplace challenges or shortcomings:  

  • Overworked technicians and understaffed teams: More than half of respondents to our survey of maintenance professionals in the manufacturing and facilities management sectors named skills shortages as a top-three challenge. 
  • Over-ambitious quotas, metrics, and KPIs: When employees are rushing to hit ambitious targets, they’re more likely to overlook review processes and sign off on documents without thoroughly assessing them against internal standards, regulations, and best practices. 
  • The wrong perspective: Pencil whipping occurs when managers neglect to instill the right values. If team members don’t understand the value of diligence and careful reviews, they’ll pencil whip without a second thought. 

In many instances, pencil whipping comes down to workplace culture. When managers fail to communicate the risks of pencil whipping and make diligence a core tenet of daily operations they enable non-compliant behavior and put their businesses at risk

How to prevent pencil whipping

Here are a few steps you can take to encourage maintenance team members to take the appropriate amount of care while reviewing documents. 

  • Avoid tying incentives to production numbers and instead incentivize employees to exercise the appropriate amount of care. Building a more transparent and communicative workplace culture will encourage your team to commit to new standard of excellence.
  • Conduct random checks and assessments to audit procedures and begin taking corrective action where necessary. Enforcing new accountability standards across the board will ensure safety is a constant across your facilities. 
  • Seek out group feedback from the employees responsible for signing off on critical documents and apply it to improve your maintenance program and safety procedures consistently. 

Preventing pencil whipping with a CMMS

By digitizing and centralizing important safety documents, checklists, and work orders, a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) can help to make pencil whipping a thing of the past and transform maintenance operations. Limble even enables technicians to execute maintenance work and analyze real-time performance data via their mobile devices. Learn more about how these platforms automate alerts for due dates and expiration dates, keep essential documents and templates handy, and help track approval workflows in our Essential Guide

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