Going through the CARF Accreditation Survey process can be challenging. And as if you didn’t already have enough on your plate! It sometimes seems like they end up coming at the worst possible time.  While there is no magic bullet, here are some practical tips that I think will make your life a LOT easier!

Have Your Ducks All Lined Up
If you’re smart about it, getting ready shouldn’t cause too many grey hairs. As Louis Pasteur said, fortune favors the prepared mind. I strongly suggest that agencies start out with a gaps analysis; a standard-by-standard review to determine where (and how) they meet the standards as well as where the gaps are. Although tedious, it makes your life much easier down the line. The challenge is that many standards have a logical connection to other standards. Organizations that start at the beginning of the CARF manual and make changes as they work through it, or assign responsibility for different sections of the manual to different people, will run into problems. They fail to see the interconnections and overlap until it’s too late. Seeing the bigger picture up front is critical. I also strongly recommend imbedding standards requirements in existing agency systems or processes. Ask yourself “Can this requirement be met by adjusting an existing form or adding an element to an existing client or team meeting process?”. Think ‘Two-Fers’! Minimize the impact on the front line by using what you’ve already got!

Know Thy Survey Team
About two months prior to the survey, you’ll get an email from CARF letting you know who is on your Survey Team. Although the members of the team can change right up until the survey start date, it’s worth checking out who they are. We would like to believe that all surveyors are created equal, but that simply isn’t the case. They are professionals in the field that bring their own perspectives, experiences, and biases. So check them out. Google them. Find out where they work and what they do there. Ask around to other Accredited agencies to see if they know them. When the administrative surveyor calls you to discuss the survey (roughly a month prior to your survey start date), ask lots of questions about their background and their approach to surveying. Although a prepared organization should do well regardless of who the surveyors are, having a sense of what to expect from the team can make a world of difference to how smoothly things go.

The Secret to All Good Events; Planning!
Remember that a survey, in essence, is an event. It follows a schedule, has specific elements, and involves different groups of people with different roles. Surveys go best when they are well planned. Work with the Survey Team to develop a detailed survey schedule. Do your best to make sure each part of the survey happens as scheduled. Have point people that act as a liaisons to the different survey team members. Although there are bound to be some small glitches, you want it to go as smoothly as possible.

Make It Easy
Surveying can be grueling! You fly to a place you’ve never been before to meet up with people you’ve likely never worked with before to spend several intense days at an organization you know little about. While surveyors are paid by CARF, it’s usually a meager pittance compared to what they make at their day jobs. They do it because it’s an opportunity to give back, to learn from others, and to see how things are done in other places. So make their life easy! Part of that is being prepared and planning for the survey, which I’ve already discussed above. In addition, make sure that the materials you provide them are clearly marked and ideally referenced to the standard to which they apply. Provide a nice space to work in. Make sure they have the necessities of life; coffee and a clean washroom. Help them to figure out arrangements for lunch and give them some recommendations for dinner. Make sure you recommend a decent hotel that isn’t too far away. Although leaving a welcome basket at their hotel isn’t required, I always appreciate when an agency leaves something to welcome me – a note, or some information about the local community. The little things can truly make a difference.   Most surveyors ask for some agency materials to be left at the hotel the night before the survey starts anyways, so that’s your opportunity to welcome them!

Remember, It’s Your Survey!
I can’t stress this one enough; this is YOUR survey! You are paying for it (directly or indirectly, depending on the jurisdiction). You should expect good service, both from CARF’s staff at headquarters in Tucson and from the Survey Team. They should respond to your questions and be open about the process. They should be professional and courteous. You should expect them to be fair and balanced in giving feedback. They should strive to add value to your organization by offering good advice and pointing you in the direction of additional resources wherever possible. They should also acknowledged your strengths and give you the opportunity to show off what makes you proud about your agency. While CARF does its best to match surveyor skill sets to agency needs, the process isn’t perfect. You may simply end up with someone who isn’t a good match for your organization. Or if you happen to live in a city that is a sought after tourist destination, you can end up with team members who are interested in a ‘Survey-cation’ (thankfully, that’s rare). Bottom line – if you’re not happy, let the surveyor team know about it! And if that doesn’t work, let CARF know about it.

I hope these tips help.  And if you have others that you’d like to add, please add a comment below!