File review: is your firm policing the boundary between review and supervision?
I faced an interesting point of conflict the other day on the perennial battle front that is file reviews. On assessing the file review processes at the firm, it seemed to me that there was a strong case to consolidate the process of undertaking file reviews in fewer hands.
The case in favour:
• making file reviews a core part of someone's role was more likely to mean that this aspect of their job was actually done
• in any event, with fewer people to hold to account for doing the file reviews, it would be easier to crack the whip and get them done
• the relationship between "management" and fewer file reviewers should be more meaningful in terms of gathering and acting upon the results of the reviews
As this necessitated a change, it was inevitable that there was resistance to the proposal. However, on closer examination the resistance had some substance and needed some clear thinking about the difference between the role of File Reviewer and Supervisor.
To separate out file review from supervision - I like to think in terms of the "franchise model", usually taking my own experience of Perfect Pizza as an example. File review is something that can be conducted by external auditor (are the toilets clean, is the coleslaw in the fridge within its sell by date?). Supervision is something that is more contemporaneous with the action (checking to see whether someone is putting pepperoni and not anchovies on the pizza). File review criteria should be objective as far as possible. Supervision is a qualitative, interactive and often a subjective process - which needs to be built up in an entirely different way to building audit criteria.
From the business point of view there is nearly nothing to be gained by the supervisor carrying out file reviews. Firstly, file reviews are rarely undertaken willingly by supervisors and, in fact, usually only get undertaken on pain of death. However, if you think about it, there is actually something inherently unsatisfactory about the person who supervised the cleaning of the toilets or the stock rotation of the coleslaw, also being the arbiter of how well it was done. An effective file review process should effectively be a validation of the work done by both the supervisor and the supervisee.
The nature of our debate therefore turned to the issue of policing the boundary between file review and supervision. This in part involves creating a collaborative arrangement between the file reviewer and the supervisor, which aligns the interests of the business with and supports the supervisor in their relationship with their supervisee. At least that is the theory. I hope it works. I hate anchovies.