You do not get what you expect, you get what you inspect. What gets measured gets done.

What you choose to inspect also sends a powerful message about an organization’s true priorities. You can talk quality, customer service, environmental responsibility, and corporate ethics all day long but if the only things you bother to inspect (and reward) are the strictly financial areas, well, your walk is much louder and clearer than your talk.

I’m writing this early on a Saturday morning, in the pre-dawn darkness. When the sun rises and I’ve had breakfast, I will visit many of the apartment communities where we provide homes for our customers. I will walk the grounds, visit the clubhouses. I will talk to the leasing agents, ask them how the communities are doing, ask how well we are taking care of our residents, are our residents happy, and equally important, as happy Team Members are a major component toward happy customers, how well are we taking care of them? I ask them if the community needs anything, I ask them if they need anything. My favorite question is “If you owned this community, if it were yours, what would you do differently?”

I like visiting on the weekends, in part because I do not feel the press and stress of weekday duties and responsibilities but also because I get to interact with the property staff, those with the maximum customer interaction, during a slower-paced time.

I once had a manager who often reported to me that a certain task had been accomplished, which really was when he had been told by those reporting to him that it had been accomplished. After a few times, because of my fondness for management by walking around, I found that his progress reports were a bit optimistic. The project had been started, the project was under way, the project had been scheduled, but too often the project was not completed and certainly not fully inspected to catch the last few “shake down” issues.

Sloppy communication can lead to messy performance. When an organization is taught (by leaders who accept it) that soft words and flowery promises will substitute for hard results and competent performance, well, talking is a lot easier than doing.

I started asking him “How do you know? Know for sure?” He quickly got more precise in his phrasing: “The property manager has reported it complete. I intend to inspect it Tuesday on my next property walk.”

This manager quickly rose to the level of performance required of him (via inspection) and thus raised the level of his entire team. They knew they would be held accountable, they knew someone cared about quality and competence. However, if you have to inspect too frequently, you either have organizational issues (training, staffing levels, communication) or personnel issues (motivation, competence, character).

Someone once said “People do not fail, systems do.” There is some truth to that. “Expecting the best, inspecting for what you expect” is a vital part of most every good system.

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted June 30, 2008.