“Show me a completely smooth operation and I’ll show you someone who’s covering mistakes. Real boats rock.”
If you’ve been following my book reviews you’ll know I recently worked through the original three Dune audiobooks. I’m currently re-reading the original Dune and listening to ChapterHouse Dune, the sixth of the original series and final one to be written by Frank Herbert.
The above quote is from ChapterHouse Dune. Whilst the last three of the original six (God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and ChapterHouse Dune) don’t have the same philosophical depth as the first three, they do a good job of describing the fallout from the philosophies explored in those books. Even so, this quote leapt out at me when I heard it- so much so that I had to pull the car into a lay-by, skip back, and bookmark it. It’s rare that a fiction book can so effectively summarise elements of politics, religion and philosophy through seemingly throwaway lines rather than deep observations, but Frank Herbert does this with alarming frequency. I wish I’d met him.
The above quote does the same thing for management.
Those of you also involved in quality assurance management will hopefully understand the vastly different outcomes an unannounced visit can result in, as compared to a planned and announced visit.
Unannounced visits have their place. You may get a more realistic and nuanced picture. Staff will be less prepared for your arrival, and therefore have less opportunity to plan for their conversations with you - meaning they will be less prepared to divert the conversation into more comfortable areas. This also means that they may be less likely to have relevant information to hand, should you want to take a ‘deep dove’ into a specific topic. You also risk arriving at time when people are simply too busy to give you the time you need to get done what you need to do. Different industries will have their specific risks also, with regard ti unannounced visits. Working in the care sector, you may find that you’ve arrived to interrupt an important meeting, an activity, or they may simply all be out. There is the risk also that you could arrive mid-incident, or that your presence precipitates one. A rarity, but still a risk.
With a planned visit you can ensure (as much as is possible) that everyone will be aware you are visiting, and prepared accordingly. They may have the relevant information to hand, and you can ensure your visit does not clash with any other arrangements. In care, the residents can be prepared also. You may find that they re more engaging and revealing as a result of having time to prepare for your visit. I’ve certainly found that children with attachment difficulties and people with certain learning differences such as autism much prefer to have time to prepare for your visit. If there are issues that need addressing, staff may have time to think about what those issues are and how they can be resolved, instead of being unprepared for the conversation. On the flip side, knowing you will be arriving may result in a team more interested in pleasing you and ‘achieving’ a positive report, rather than presenting you with an honest view of how things are going (“The boss is coming! Look busy!”).
Ultimately, a blended approach of announced and unannounced QA visits is likely to produce the best data. QA visits will only ever produce a snapshot of how things are going, at any rate; it’s the contribution QA visits make to all the other management tools that is important, along with how you use the information you glean. There are those who argue that unannounced visits are unfair, or that they are a means of trying to catch staff out. That to me speaks of a failing of the workplace culture, not an inherent flaw in quality assurance visits.
Real boats rock. It’s the job of quality assurance to find out how, when, why, and feedback to the crew.
This is the page I'll update most often, with thoughts and opinions on management, writing, and what I've been watching or listening to. So dip in and see what takes your fancy.