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Bryony Roberts

Removing the fear from audits

Bryony Roberts
Published: 6 Dec 2022

The audit process is a valuable tool for organisations, giving them a chance to examine their processes and ensure they are on the right track. So why is it that the word ‘audit’ is a cause for fear? Bryony Roberts from Pragmatic Consultancy Ltd examines the reasons why.

How do people react to the word ‘audit’? More importantly, how do people feel when being audited?

Over many years of supporting and leading audits, I have remained aware of how they can make others feel, and yet there is still a stigma attached to them, as well as a sense of dread about the outcome.

It’s about time all that changed. 

Checking the processes

There are many different types of audits, but the nature of our systems and processes more often than not involve talking to or working with people.

Can you remember the last time you got audited? How did you feel? What was the feedback like?

An audit is used to verify that an organisation is doing what it says it is doing. It’s not meant to be personal, and it’s a great tool to validate the findings against evidence of whether that product or service met the intended output of the process or a system.

Take a trip to the beach as an example. Most of us will use a satellite navigation system, which is constantly checking where you are in relation to the route you are expected to take; this verifies that you are on the same route. That is the auditing part of a process, product or system.

Once you have reached your destination, it is simply a validation that you have arrived at where you were planning to go and that it is where you expected to be. Clicking the ‘finished’ button on that sat nav system is your validation that everything is as expected: you are on a beach with the sand and the waves.

So why is it that audit comes with a sense of dread, fear or anxiety? What is it that triggers these emotions? Especially as most of us are audited daily but are often unaware of being audited or perhaps are open and willing to be ‘monitored’ in some cases.

Examples of this could be smartphones or watches that use a satellite navigation system as a driver while monitoring access through different applications.

Understanding the status quo

The American Society for Quality gives the definition of an audit as: ‘on-site verification either through face-to-face conversation or observance of an activity such as inspection or examination of a process or a quality system to ensure compliance to requirements'.

For most businesses, auditing is used to understand the status quo, look for areas of deviation and to find out whether the process has slipped over a period of time. None of these activities should induce fear or anxiety and yet, somehow, they do.

So, what is going wrong?

Is it that audits are being used unfairly to catch process loopholes? Is it because we are not investing enough in training? Is it down to not communicating that observations and improvements should be raised outside of audits? Do we not listen enough or monitor enough through other aspects of process?

“So why is it that audit comes with a sense of dread, fear or anxiety? What is it that triggers these emotions?”

Bryony Roberts, Pragmatic Consultancy Ltd

Is it perhaps because we don’t use all the tools in a way that allows us to take meaningful steps to close the gap between audit and conversation, while encouraging our teams to actively participate in questioning what they do and why they do it that way?

I don’t have the answers and I believe they would be different for each situation. However, I would encourage everyone facing an audit to support their employees or business systems and take the fear out of the audit process. By recognising it as a reporting tool and feedback mechanism, it should help validate whether the destination an organisation has arrived at is acceptable.

Do you agree? Contact us to have your say.