None of us are perfect, which is just as well.  We can’t learn anything if we don’t make mistakes, miss the mark, screw up, get things wrong, and embarrass ourselves sometimes.  But for some reason, we still think we’re supposed to be perfect.

That’s why `inspection’ is such a scary word.  It conjures up visions of someone with a clipboard looking over your shoulder, adding up all your individual mistakes, quirks and imperfections, and writing a big red ‘FAIL’ at the bottom of the page.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, I promise.

Inspection can be empowering.  It can be life-changing.  It can even be fun…

If you know you’ve got an actual clipboard-wielder showing up soon, like an OFSTED inspector, an independent project evaluator or someone who’s assessing you for your PQASSO certification, the first trick is remembering not to take it personally.  They’re not evaluating your worth as an individual: they want to know about the big picture.  Regardless of everyone’s separate flaws, how is the project or organisation working?

The second trick is taking time to think a bit more about the person behind the clipboard.  Where are they coming from?  What boxes do they need to tick – and why?  What do they, or the people who sent them, care most about?

If you’re lucky, you might find there’s a big overlap between their values and yours – maybe you’ve got a common interest in equality, safety, sustainability and well-being, for example. In that case, the key is to convince them you’re just as obsessed with those things as they are.

If you’ve done your homework and know you’ve got some serious work to do on a few criteria, write a policy that clearly shows how (and when) you’re going to meet them.

If you’re doing something that’s not on their list but shows off your commitment to diversity, your efforts to empower service users, your green credentials or your passion for safeguarding vulnerable kids, make a poster of it and put it somewhere the inspector’s sure to see it.  Put it in as many policies as possible (within reason, of course).  Minute it in staff meetings.   And when you’re talking to them,  tell them about it.

The third trick is making sure that, for all your imperfections, you prove that you’re a learning organisation.  You’re committed to seeking feedback, thinking about what it means, and, crucially, acting on it – especially when it’s from previous inspectors, and especially when it’s not as positive as you’d have liked.

When you have a culture of learning, even the biggest screw-ups can become assets.

When your screw-ups become assets, that’s when you’ll start to exceed expectations.  And somewhere along the way, you’ll suddenly realise that you’re enjoying the process…

Image: Land art, We Are All Blemished (© Gemma Burford, 2013)


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