Growing up, I remember our family’s refrigerator was always packed full with leftovers. Typically, we would repurpose the plastic containers from butter, sour cream, cottage cheese, etc. for our various leftovers after each meal (with a family of 5 children, leftovers were common). Although resourceful, re-using the same containers for leftovers creates a problem – you don’t really know what is inside that butter container until you actually open it. The hunt for butter or whatever specific food you were looking for became a ritual every time you opened the refrigerator to search for something. At times you might even get a surprise, like that three-weeks-old dish that has mold growing on it and/or it has a spoiled-rotten aroma.
One way to eliminate this inconvenient search is to use clear containers for leftovers. You can see what’s inside before opening it, and you might even be able to see if it’s spoiled so that you are better prepared when you remove the lid.
Transparency is just one way to make a process more efficient. This applies to organizations as well. In fact, I believe transparent processes within organizations can also have other side effects such as builds trust, improves communication, and holds people/organizations accountable.
At work, we are preparing for two very important inspections, and stress levels have been heightened across our technical teams in preparation. One way we’ve chosen to help us is to invite two external teams to do “pre-inspections” on our systems and processes. Our Commanding Officer asked the teams to act as if they were the real inspectors and gave them permission to be as strict and intrusive as needed. During the out briefs, the teams walked us through what they graded us on and how we did on each item. They identified where we passed and where we failed in our processes.
The results of this pre-inspection have been very valuable in preparing us for the real inspection because we now have the time to fix or put things into place processes to improve the things where we are failing to meet standards. This is the first time we have ever pre-inspected ourselves to this degree. We have passed our previous inspections, but we went into them somewhat “blind”.
These inspections don’t happen very often — in fact, the last big inspection we went through was three years ago and the other inspection we haven’t had at all. In the world of cyber, so much has and can change in just three years. Perhaps we owe it to ourselves and to others to conduct similar pre-inspections on a smaller scale more often since organizational process that are more transparent are more aware of where they stand throughout the year… as opposed to just during inspection time.
Inspections are like the clear containers for leftovers — they allow an objective and external perspective into your organization and how you do business. Leaders should never be surprised with a moldy or rotten smelling dish when the lid of their organization is removed.
Although inspections are important, they should not be the end all of how business is done. Ideally, inspection standards are the baseline – in our case, they are merely the starting point of how we defend cyberspace and the Navy’s networks and systems. It also means that [ideally] the inspectors and those who create the guidelines and requirements know what our business is so that they don’t restrain or stifle creativity and growth by the standards from which we are measured.
The value of inspections of organizations are similar to performance assessments of employees. It’s a feedback mechanism. It allows leaders and those being evaluated the opportunity to receive feedback on where they stand against the requirements of their job. It also allows leaders and those being evaluated the opportunity to grow, to find ways to develop or strengthen their talents and skills where they excel as well as improve in areas where needed.
At the out brief, leaders should be able to ask proudly, “how far did we exceed the standard?” rather than merely asking, “have we met the standard?” and have a clear picture of their performance as well as identified areas for improvement.
- In what areas of your work/life needs to be more transparent to you or others?
- What standards are you using to measure your performance?
- How often do you reflect on whether you have you met or exceeded them?