Home > Ideas > “Prepare for a Surprise Review next week!”

“Prepare for a Surprise Review next week!”

As kids we shared this joke about a teacher who (supposedly) would announce in class “There will be a Surprise Test on the first 3 lessons in Geography next week!” It never failed to crack us up.

I once lived in an area adjacent to the local Military HQ and the daily journey to work and back took me past their offices. At certain times you could see frenetic activity, the grass and the shoddy undergrowth was being cut , the road being re-tarred and the fringes of the roads and even the rocks that lay strewn on the road-side would get a coat of paint. It was amusing to see them go about it because over a period of time one learnt that it was being done in preparation for an inspection or for a Senior Official’s visit.

Most private organisations operate the same way. The visit of the Head Honcho is announced weeks in advance and everyone is asked to prepare, even get coached by the local manager on what to say. I worked in a large family-run company where the Chairman, a genial octogenarian, had these quirky highbrow fancies – and before the “Review Visit” the local man is informed about the Big Boss’ special needs. One time we junior lackeys where sent scurrying to scout the market for artichokes and  avocados just to amuse the old man’s palate. It seems this all-knowing gentleman had heard that those veggies are cultivated in Kerala. Enough said!

What is the use of a review or an inspection when everyone is “prepared” and waiting? I wish to believe that a smart leader would like to see things as they are and hence would arrive unannounced. Well, the intention of the man is not to point fingers or to find faults, but he should do that if things are not going as per plan. A smart manager would like to walk in on the scene and study how the team is implementing the Business Plan. He can assess from up close how his team really works. It is a great opportunity for her to separate the grain from the chaff.

Otherwise, what is shown would just be a mirage, a myth. The reports and the charts would show rousing achievements and amazing stats, every “performer” mouthing the right words; but at the end of the quarter the same set would have failed to meet multiple objectives.

What happened? Well, before the arrival of the guests at my household we hastily clean up the living room and dining area, stuff gets rolled up and chucked unceremoniously into the cupboards and almirahs. Within hours of their departure the house is back to its untidy state. That’s what happened!

A Smart Manager’s job is to tell his team what is expected from them when he is not looking and then he can reinforce this well by making a few unannounced visits. I am sure all sensible people learn when they are caught off-guard once, maybe a few needed more than one knock on their head and the ones who do not take the hint at all … Surprise them with a pink slip!

Smart Management is about getting people to do what is right –  by ensuring that they don’t just appear smart … they are surprisingly smart!

  1. June 13, 2012 at 9:57 am

    OMG! I remember those yearly visits by ISO audit teams, and how the systems head would give us a TB sized HDD to put all our pirated songs in that before he carried it out of the office. Three days without songs seemed endless. 🙂

    • JayadevM
      June 13, 2012 at 10:17 am

      Ha! Ha!

      Bikram, immense sacrifice! 🙂

      I can visualise the situation having experienced audit related frenzy in the organisations I worked in. Such scams those audits are.

  2. Kailash
    June 13, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Good one J being ready all the time is must for Boss and for the team as well. I remember when we were implementing one large OSS (Telecom Software) project in Philippines and our User acceptance test (UAT) date was given of coming moth’s 15th and this client’s project director asked us to run UAT test case on development environment one month prior to the UAT date and you can imagine how we would have reacted :(. he said he wish to test only sections which should have been finished as per project plan and there will not be any signoff for this UAT testing as actual UAT would be next month……….and as expected many of our test case failed miserably as you now in IT or any other industry for that matter we keep/drag it till end. And can you imagine what happened next? He asked his team to change and prepare his own UAT test cases to test on the systems as he got how some of old test cases are being written and how system works. And UAT happened after one month of planned UAT date. Luckily this time no failed test cases but this was a very big lesson for us & specially for me as I was a PM of that project…..

    So yes we all should be ready all the time.

    • JayadevM
      June 13, 2012 at 11:27 am


      Thank you for sharing that experience. Yes, lack of preparedness and non-compliance can turn around and bite us.


  3. Shree
    June 13, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Nice article, Jay! But I have a rather different take on it, especially when it comes to Govt officials/ministers in the Indian context. I guess many would second me when I say that atleast in the pretext of such ‘pre – announced’ visits, something worthwhile happens..New roads get laid, old roads get patched-up, some general, superficial cleaning up act happens,disinfectant – usually some white chlorine powder is sprinkled alongside the roads and in particular at certain favorite places which the traveling junta prefer converting into open urinals..etc. etc.. the only eyesore being the numerous banners and posters that get pasted en-route the venue.

    While what you say is a near Utopian scenario, an even better format is when there’s a total commitment to orderliness where each individual concerned is fully aware of his tasks and it’s importance in the overall scheme of things.Generally many Japs follow this system and also apply ‘kaizen’ to even exceed the given mandate. Even at home, isn’t it better that everyone does their part all by themselves rather than do it on compulsion?

    Smart manager will get people to do it the way it’s required to be done, whereas a smart leader inspires people to do it by default and if need be, show the way himself/herself. Imagine a top official/minister jumping onto the field and starts cleaning up the rubbish on the roadside..what impact would that have?!

    • JayadevM
      June 14, 2012 at 7:40 am

      Hi Shreenath

      Interesting perspective on the Government Official visits. It’s because the departments aren’t working that roads and public amenities are unkempt in the first place. The first question on any sensible officials mind should be – “Why are these places being cleaned only for my visits.” But the officials too care two hoots, isn’t it?

      That last suggestion is an excellent one … A few leaders jumping out of their A/c vehicles to act will be a great starting point. It will prompt others to follow suit. I think that is the right way.

      As for all of us doing things proactive – Absolutely! If everyone knows what’s to be done and follows the process diligently there is no need for review. But things don’t happen that way. For a number of reasons people don’t work the way they are expected to. Hence the need for checks and audits.

      All Leadership visits need not be surprise ones. If I gave a feeling that all visits should be surprise ones let me change that by saying that a few such visits can help to move things in the right direction.

      Thank you for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

  4. June 15, 2012 at 2:39 am

    I agree with Shree and that house cleaning spree before guests arrive – that is sooo me 🙂
    For surprise guests I have a fridge magnet – “Dull women have immaculate homes” 😛

    • JayadevM
      June 16, 2012 at 5:31 am

      Nice quote!

  5. Jamy
    June 15, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Funny but true Jay!

    • JayadevM
      June 15, 2012 at 6:05 am

      Strange too. Isn’t it Jamy?

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