By Allen F. Weitzel
In last year’s Working Generations blog, I offered ideas for addressing the generation gaps between employees. Yet one interaction that is often overlooked happens when employees are hastily assigned to escort outside vendors and inspectors.
In my first year as a food director, we encountered a strict health department inspector named Jeff. On his first tour, he wrote us up because our drink dispenser had a collection of condensation on it, saying that condensation must be wiped off to prevent a dust accumulation. Dust could drop into a guest’s cup while dispensing the drink and the guest could become ill.
Upon hearing that comment, I decided to assign an employee to escort Jeff, take notes and work on correcting his concerns.
Our employees were of a younger generation than most inspectors. I selected Darlene for the job – she was organized, smart, and knew every work station. She toured with Jeff whenever he inspected. After every visit, she worked with employees to correct inspection concerns before his next visit. She documented everything so Jeff could not revise his requirements from visit to visit. Darlene built a rapport with Jeff. She could even caution him when he made impractical requests. After several visits, Jeff seldom found any issues. Darlene continued to train employees on sanitation.
I began using the ‘tour guide’ procedure at all the facilities I managed. Here is what I learned from those experiences:
Working With Inspectors
- Your employee will become an important person to the inspector, so choose carefully. Do not grab any employee for this task.
- You should meet with the inspector and your employee before and after each inspection. The inspector needs to know you are interested in the inspection results. If you have selected the perfect guide, after time, the inspector may not even want to meet with you.
- Before you assign an employee to accompany an inspector, be sure you discuss ground rules; what to say, who to call if they do not have an answer and when to contact you for help. Make sure they have access to places they need to go.
- Your guide should have a good knowledge of your facility, the history, what is located where and who does what.
- Always schedule the same guide with the inspector. If they are not available, you must accompany the inspector.
- Clarify the expected length of the inspection. One inspector at our park took three days for a scheduled spot check visit. We discovered that he was people watching in the park.
- Train your guide to take notes, listen to and learn the information provided. An inspector should never be treated as an adversary, but as a knowledgeable resource. Doing so will help your guide build a rapport with the inspector with regard to problem solving.
- Veteran inspectors may not embrace newer technologies. Your guide should adapt to the communication and data gathering formats that inspectors prefer and not comment on the inspector’s habits. Inspectors like to be knowledgeable, respected and in control.
- Require that the guide take a company issued camera to document concerns. They should never use their personal iPhone or camera. This will prevent photos from leaving the security of the company.
- At each meeting, the inspector will want a report of concerns that have been abated and reasons why others were not. They will spot check items on the list and if concerns are fixed, your guide and the park will gain valuable credibility with the inspector.
- The guide should not engage in humor until they have worked frequently with the same inspector and established a mutual trust. Besides, what is funny to one person, may not be funny to another.
- The guide should always tell the truth, but only answer if they know that 100 percent of what they say is a fact.
- The guide should never volunteer information. Be truthful when asked, but do not embellish.
- The guide should ask clarification questions of the inspector. Not all inspectors are good communicators. They may not provide enough detail when they explain a concern.
- At the end of the visit, you should speak to both parties privately to assess if they are communicating well. If you sense that the guide and the inspector do not have a good rapport, select a different guide for future visits.
- Always require a guide-in-training to accompany you on several inspections before you assign them to the one-on-one escort task. They must see how a tour is conducted and what obstacles they may encounter.
- Your guide should be able to sense when the visit is getting too chummy or too long and when to stop for the day.
At another park, one of our guides was a young adult female. She was an hourly employee. Our liability insurance inspections required a full week to complete. Once, after the daily inspection was complete and my employee had clocked out, I noticed she was talking to the two inspectors in the parking lot. I asked her privately if she was okay. She said she was. I left the group to chat, but I alerted Security and asked them to make sure that she stayed safe. The next morning when we met before the day’s inspection, the inspectors mentioned that they had taken my employee to dinner to talk business. I was concerned. My employee was hourly, so technically she was working during their long dinner. This created a payroll issue. Alcohol was consumed. So, a possible safety concern was another red flag. There was no company manager in attendance to be sure all behavior was acceptable. The inspectors saw nothing wrong with taking my employee to drinks and dinner and talking business without my knowledge. Could confidentiality issues have been violated? Certainly, several concerns surfaced. The company was now obligated to pay our employee overtime for this ‘meeting.’ The lesson here is to be sure to train your staff about all behavior expectations for all situations.
Working with Vendors
- Many of the above procedures also apply to vendor deliveries.
- Vendors are on a deadline, so they work fast, which could create safety issues, sloppy deliveries or miscounts of product.
- Your guide should know how to get the vendor to the delivery location safely, how to check delivery accuracy, who is assigned to put it away, how to sign for it and to escort the vendor off the property.
- If a guide encounters unsafe procedures, they must know the proper way to advise the vendor about correcting their actions. This takes people skills so an inexperienced worker may not be the best choice for this task.