You Get What You INSPECT, Not What You EXPECT

By Ron Rosenberg

There are things about running our own business that I really enjoy.  And there are also other things that are not really fun.  On the whole, though, I much prefer being my own boss than working for someone else; for me at least, I like to succeed or fail based on what I do, not on some complicated compensation formula that's affected by events way out of my control.

Who's the Boss?

As an example, in the last 18 months of my corporate life, I had six different bosses. That's one per quarter. Imagine what that does when it's annual review time!

Each of these bosses had his own unique strengths and weaknesses; and in most cases, the weaknesses outnumbered the strengths.  But one of these bosses actually did teach me a lot of good lessons.

He had all these clever sayings he used to share with us in meetings, such as, "Be a hero at the time of delivery, not at the time of commitment."  Meaning, don't promise more than you can deliver; deliver more than you promise.  The sayings were a bit corny, but they were generally accurate.

My favorite one - and the one that has stuck with me more than 20 years later is this:

"You get what you inspect, not what you expect."

The Clock is Ticking...

You see, at the time, I was running the Quality and Technical Training Department for our division, and we were right in the midst of a very large and very complicated ISO-9000 certification process. My team was working closely with the directors from the various line organizations to help them identify, organize, and document their processes.

We were tracking their progress because we were all working towards a fixed deadline when the auditors would be on site.  We were way out in front of the rest of the corporation on this effort, and failure would have been a very embarrassing and very serious occurrence.

When I mentioned this to my boss, the vice president, he explained that "you get what you inspect, not what you expect," and said he would demonstrate this to me at the next senior staff meeting.

I should point out that this VP was particularly ruthless in meetings if you were not prepared, or if you were behind schedule.  Normally, this was focused at directors whose operational milestones or project deliverables were at risk. But at this meeting, I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Where everyone expected him to run down the list of current project deadlines, instead he started the meeting by asking everyone to give an update on the status of their ISO-9000 projects.

When first one director after another, started "hemming and hawing," and making excuses because they were completely caught off guard by this unexpected request, the VP lit into them like I'd never seen him do before.

Finally - A Change of Heart!

From that meeting onward, my staff got a level of cooperation and support from the line groups like they'd never experienced before. When I mentioned this to the VP a few days later, he explained it to me this way: "These directors have a lot on their plates - it's what we pay them for.  A lot of times, they're going to have more than they can handle, and something is going to have to slip. They're watching me for cues about what's important and what's not so important. In that meeting, they learned that our ISO-9000 effort is a lot more important than they thought it was."

In other words, just expecting them to do what they were supposed to do wasn't enough. But the process of inspecting - holding them accountable in a very visible way did the trick.

Now, I really didn't enjoy working for that particular boss - I thought his tactics were extreme, unnecessary, and at times humiliating. But I never forgot the basic lessons that formed the foundation of his management philosophy.

What Should You Inspect?

There's actually a fairly long list of areas where "paying attention" to what's going on can prevent small missteps from becoming major disasters.

When dealing with disappointing performance from staff members, hoping it will "straighten itself out" is a sure recipe for failure. You need to inspect performance and act accordingly.

When interacting with vendors and suppliers, you need to continually inspect the quality of what's being delivered and the timeliness of those deliveries.

Our advice is simple and effective: assume nothing; double check everything.

What's going on in your own organization? Are things happening the way you think they should be? Are your vendors meeting their commitments?

Take a lesson from my old boss - inspect every once in a while - and watch the improvement happen right before your eyes.