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Author Ryan Renard

Auditing – start as you mean to go on

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Author Ryan Renard
Published: 13 Dec 2023

How can auditors ensure that their work is a meaningful and positive experience for the auditee? IRCA Principal Auditor Ryan Renard CQP MCQI takes a closer look.

If I were to ask you about your last experience with auditing, would it be positive or negative? What would the perception be within your wider company or industry? Most importantly, what is the perception of the general workforce in the business?

How would you react if the auditors introduced themselves as 'industry experts' and 'specialists', continuing to inform you and the business that "there are always findings"? How much more receptive would you be to an auditor genuinely interested in knowing your business and helping you to become stronger, looking for opportunities to improve?

There tends to be an overall negative perception of auditing across industries - that unknown people turn up to businesses, pick and criticise methods of compliance, leaving chaos and findings in their wake. This perception also causes auditors to be more guarded, inflexible and motivated by a nagging feeling that they aren’t welcome, reducing the value further still and reinforcing the negative spiral.

For example, the infamous 'gotcha' moments do not provide auditees with the opportunity to change their minds, or accept the feedback provided. Instead, it promotes a defensive response and an attempt to justify the position to preserve their personal perception (See 'How Minds Change', by David McRaney).

We also cannot forget the influence of leaders and businesses creating key metrics and goals around having no audit findings (as a marker for success) and auditors needing as many as possible (to derive 'value' from the audit, or show they were even there!).

Audits are not inherently good or bad – they are merely an account of what is happening, viewed against what someone has accepted, chosen and defined will happen to a requirement. It is the experience associated around the audit process on which people form opinions.

The greatest influence on the auditing experience lies in the purpose, goals and relationships between auditor and auditees. Miscommunication is where misunderstanding and conflict arises – without a clear goal or scope, who knows what the purpose is? How can be we honest and hold true to our integrity when we have no rapport established or are motivated by unsuitable environments?

An audit needs to be more than account, a report or a dreaded event in our diaries. As such, we start at the beginning, with a goal.

What is the goal?

So... What is the goal of an audit?

Audits are uninspiringly defined as ‘an official inspection of an organisation's accounts, typically by an independent body’, communicating a reactive process. Audits are far more: they 'raise awareness, inspire compliance and act as a catalyst for change'. They provide us with an opportunity to change, to share in our knowledge, to lift the reputation of our industries, standardise best practice and, crucially, to grow.

"Audits are only as good as the people involved in them – for audits to be more, auditors must be more too."

Ryan Renard CQP MCQI, IRCA Principal Auditor and SQMS Manager at Ontic

The outcome cannot be as one-dimensional as completing a visit, writing a report, or identifying 'findings' that demonstrate auditors were 'present' on site. The real difference an audit can make is inspiring people to want to change, or reinforcing the positive changes already being made.

Ask yourself: "How can this audit inspire or reinforce positive actions?”"Next, we can define what needs to be covered – the boundaries or 'scope'.

What is the scope?

No auditor visits a site or process without a reason to be there. What matters is not the reason; it is the transparency with which the message is communicated and received.

The first communication between auditors and auditees, often through the issuance of a scope and/or request for visit, determines how the subsequent audit will be conducted and perceived.

Auditors do not gain any advantage by hiding their true intentions and auditees gain even less by diverting attention away from the reason for the visit. How can a successful audit be conducted if difficult conversations are avoided? We can only be efficient, effective and collaborative when we are all working towards the same goal.

Ask yourself: "Why am I conducting this audit? What is the value I bring to the auditees? Have I clearly communicated this? Are we all working together?" In order to communicate our scope, we must be honest. To adhere to it, we must have integrity.

What about honesty and integrity?

Trust should be built both before and throughout the auditing process. It is rarely a problem to have a problem; it becomes a problem when you are either unaware of there being one, or are failing to do something about it.

Even so, when you do find a problem, do you trust the business to close it out? Does it require formal escalation? Both parties need to have an open and honest dialogue, not seeking to hide and obscure information, outcome or intention.

Auditees become guarded when they believe auditors are working against them – that findings will be raised 'as a matter of course' and not for value, that they are on site to 'catch them out'. Auditors become more vigilant when they think information is being withheld, that they are not welcome, or that their scope will not be met.

Ask yourself: "Am I able to have an open conversation? Am I hiding anything? Can I improve my communication? Am I adding value?"

To facilitate honesty and integrity, and foster a good working relationship, we need to build rapport.

Aiming to build rapport

What efforts do you place into building a relationship with someone you will see once? How likely are you to behave in a way that fosters a positive relationship when you will never see them again?

The efficiency and content of the audit is directly affected by the rapport you gain with auditees. People like those who are like them; they share and co-operate with those who have their interests, and help those who help them.

There is a strange perception that audits should be serious, impersonal assessments. I cannot stress enough that this should not be the case. By building trust, being consistent and conducting yourself in a personable and professional manner, audits can be enjoyable and fun, where you share experiences and stories and collaboratively work to raise the capabilities and quality of the area under assessment.

Ask yourself: "Do we have a positive relationship? Am I genuinely interested in this person and the business? Do we know each other well enough?"

Starting as you mean to go on

How well we establish a goal and define a scope, communicated with honesty and conducted with integrity, will directly affect both the experience and the outcome of your audit. The foundation of any action is in preparation and self-awareness. Auditing is a collaborative process, and collaboration needs two willing parties to go above and beyond.

This collaboration is made even easier with good rapport. You will be one of many auditors a company will receive during their time, so do you want to be remembered for the value you added. Or the ‘destruction’ and disruption left in your wake? Or, far worse, forgotten that you were even there?

As prominently shown in customer service, we easily remember bad experiences, yet there needs to be something truly unique for a good experience to be remembered.

How many other jobs, roles and professions have this potential for influencing other businesses or industries at their very core and daily operations? Audits are only as good as the people involved in them – for audits to be more, auditors must be more too. We need raise awareness, to inspire change and to act as catalysts for that change.

Perceptions contributing to a quality culture

Read more from Ryan Renard CQP MCQI, as he examines how the way in which we perceive our environment contributes to a quality culture.


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