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Winning with companywide inspections

By Dan Carrison

To many, the concept of holding companywide inspections from “on high” may seem an anachronism, dating back to the days when organizations, modeled after the military, were characterized by top-down, hierarchical command structures. In the modern “flattened” organization – in which one’s co-workers are apt to be more expert than their managers – the prospect of preparing for a white glove inspection might seem a silly waste of time. A more serious objection might be that the downtime associated with an inspection could cost business opportunities. Even senior management may shy away from an inspection program, anxious to avoid the stereotype of overbearing leadership.

But regular formal inspections can yield great benefits for senior managers and the rank and file.

Inspections are a form of pre-emptive management. Why wait until the numbers in the quarterly reports point to a problem at a local branch? A companywide inspection program allows senior leadership to nip problems in the bud and to see for itself if the corporate vision has been communicated properly and is being implemented cost-effectively. Even if a far-flung branch is doing splendidly, an inspection is still in order, if only to identify “best practices” that can be shared throughout the organization.

Branch managers may resent the presumption of distrust from headquarters. If they are meeting quotas, why interfere? Managers may think that the distraction could jeopardize the achievement of the very metrics being measured. But the fact that the local branch manager feels the need to prepare underscores the need for an inspection.

Although a corporate representative should be able to drop by any day, unannounced, and find everything in order, good things can happen when preparing for a formal inspection. Grudgingly, managers may admit that preparations yielded new efficiencies.

Because inspections are passed or failed by the entire entity, preparations motivate individuals to contribute to the branch as a whole. An esprit de corps is formed as the team unites to display an attitude that tells the inspector, “We defy you to find anything wrong with this branch.”

Inspectors should have “street cred” with the local managers. They should be company veterans who have years of experience as a branch manager. Able to appreciate the business challenges confronted by the branch, inspectors should be shrewd and empathetic. And it should be clear to all that inspectors are there to help, not to make heads roll. If the employees fear the inspector, they will not be open and honest to probing questions.

To be considered complete, every inspection should go beyond the walls of the local branch and into the community it serves. The inspector should meet with key customers and major suppliers to get a feel for the local manager’s ability to establish and maintain warm, professional relationships. And, since good corporate citizenship is expected, interviews with local community leaders and service club members may shed light on the branch manager’s style.

A regular inspection program is win-win. The senior leaders of the organization will sleep better at night knowing that the far-flung branches are operating efficiently – or, if not, which ones to improve. The local managers will like the new spit-and-polished look of the branch and will endeavor to keep it that way. And the inspectors, themselves, having rounded out their perspective of the organization as a whole, will be ready to move on to executive positions.

Dan Carrison, a business writer and consultant, has authored or co-authored four management books: Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way, Deadline! How Premier Organizations Win the Race Against Time, Business Under Fire and From the Bureau to the Boardroom. Carrison is a general partner of Semper Fi Consulting and founder of www.ghostwritersinthesky.com. He also teaches corporate communication for the University of La Verne. He can be reached at dan.carrison@gmail.com.

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