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Developing a strategic approach for audits

Published: 18 Jan 2021

Hadi El Cheikh, Quality Health and Safety Executive at Veolia Water Technologies, Middle East, explains how a strategic approach can lead to a more successful audit on the assessment day.

Most of us will still remember the times when the third-party auditor(s) came and met the quality management representative to ask about the quality policy, manuals and procedures, which would take up over 40 per cent of the audit process time. After the ISO 9001:2015 revision, most auditors are still looking for the quality manager, where they’ll ask him/her about whether they have a quality manual or not, so they can check it (albeit this is not mandatory). In this scenario, why should auditors stick to the old document-based audit? Shouldn’t they revise their audit process in line with ISO revisions? 

As auditors, we all have different auditing process scenarios. The first one is ‘random’, where you have a checklist for the three years’ cycle of certification validation to cover all the processes within the client’s organisation. The second one is the product-based audit, where the auditor can take a product or service at the end line of the processes and revert it back to go over and audit all the departments. The third one is the system audit, where the auditor checks what is written in the organisation’ internal controlled documentation and compares it with what is actually being done.

As auditors, aren’t we getting enough from those rationalised audit scenarios? Shouldn’t we go further and deeper as auditors to assess the strategic planning and execution of a business more effectively? Aren’t we paid to help in continually improving an organisation? What do you think about a strategic audit?

Getting started

Firstly, we must start by visiting the client’s top management team to understand their strategic planning, the vision they want to achieve, and the mission boundaries they are framing their processes in. Next, we should take a look at the strategic map or balanced scorecard the customer’s business has established (whatever the illustration and methods they are using, be flexible) and choose one strategic objective out of the four levels (financial, customer experience/satisfaction, operational excellence and human capital management) or one that could be commonly related to the customer or operational excellence.

As for quality auditors, the customer’s financial targets could be skipped and instead, a fast check of their global strategic planning could be conducted, which matches their organisation’s external and internal issues, the needs and expectations of interested parties, and their control plans to eliminate/mitigate risks.

Next, the auditor should choose one strategic objective and then look for more execution steps. After this, go to the operations team in the client’s business, check their objectives and then select the latter for the audit process. You should question whether those objectives fall in line with the strategic direction of the organisation’s operational goals? Is it falling with the vision of the company? Or it is just a specific objective for a specific task? Alternatively, you could go directly to the customer feedback(s) that has been gathered/collated from a project and delivered, and then trace it back, so you are covering the process audit that you used to do, in addition to the customerfeedback processes.

Customer feedback

At this stage, let us assume that the organisation being audited uses the Net Promoter Score (NPS) feedback system – a tool that asks for the satisfaction level, which ranges from 0 to 10.  If the scores are nine or 10, this means the customer is a promoter, fully satisfied and will highly recommend the company’s products or services to others. If the score is seven or eight, this means the client is passive and is not sure about his/her satisfaction level, while a score of six or less indicates that the customer is a detractor, totally dissatisfied and is less likely to come back.

As an auditor, it is wise to take note that having the customer feedback with detractor scoring shall not only direct you to identify nonconformities, but also opportunities for improvement and to establish a corrective action process and action(s). This way, you will be helping the organisation being audited to create or improve their SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. By carrying out this process correctly, you are also more likely be treated as a consultant, rather than a police officer who is threatening to raise nonconformities.

The foundation level of human capital management is the final step that auditors can take to ensure they’re confident about the audit decisions they’ve made for auditing employees at different functions and levels in the business. This will give you a clear validation point as to whether the organisation’s strategy is being implemented well or not because the strategy will be clear to all employees within different departments.

Questions for auditees

“What’s in it for me?” is the question that the organisation’s senior management/leadership team should be explaining to their employees to help them understand and adopt the organisation’s vision, mission and strategic objectives. For any employee being audited, they should be able to answer the following questions for the auditor:

  • Where is the company willing to reach to achieve its vision?
  • Why does your business exist?
  • What are your personal and departmental goals/objectives within the organisation? 
  • How will your personal objectives contribute to the strategic direction of the business?

Those questions will help the auditor to determine whether the organisation is performing well, rather than searching for minor mistakes with their processes, and forgetting the bigger picture that the organisation is trying to achieve.

After finishing the audit process, you will be able to revert back to top management for the closing meeting with more confidence, a better understanding of the organisation’s deep interests, vision, mission and strategic planning. Being part of the execution plan will help to continually improve the processes and the four perspectives mentioned earlier, which drives the company to achieve its planned strategic objective(s).

The way you audit an organisation is your mirror. Be an auditor of improvement rather than an auditor of a certificate

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