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Does Your Audit Process Resemble Scotland Yard?

Audit Process will add value to an organization that can implement it as a driving force for improvement and innovation. You may ask, how can an audit process become that force? It can be done and it has been done by many others. Does the audit process in your company feel like it's ran by Scotland Yard? Do your employees feel like they are being interrogated? Do the reports that come out of the process pronounce guilty parties? Are employees hiding things from the auditors? Do employees fear that they may lose their jobs or get demoted if a problem is found?

It does not have to be that way. You can change this. You can make an audit process work as a positive and creative force in your company. An excellent audit process that adds value, starts and ends with the executive management.

Welcome to Scotland Yard!

I will never forget, the day I came into one division of a huge conglomerate. Myself and another auditor drove up and parked our car in the visitor lot. The first thing we noticed was that there was an expensive car parked right out front with a roof over it as if it was a luxury hotel. We later found out that it was built especially for the plant manager for his car.

We met with the management representative who was very nervous and almost apologetic for everything that might go wrong during the audit that we have not started yet. Later on I met two full time very nervous auditors who were in charge of the audit process. When I went into their office I found out the reason for their nervousness. I usually tried to joke around with people I audit to try and put them at ease. There was no way they could relax, I found out why. The audit process had two full time employees with a job to find things that were not going right. If they did not "they were not doing their job". Auditees on the other hand would be punished if they were doing something wrong.

I always thought that I had an auditor's luck, now thinking back I think the employees subconsciously wanted me to find things to try and get some help. I asked for three audit reports picked dates randomly. They were very nervous because they thought that they would get a registrar nonconformance since they were not closed in a timely manner and remained open for over 6 months.

I started to read a nonconformance from an audit, and could not believe what I was reading. I do not remember the exact words, but it went something like this:


Employee, X was found using an expired form.

Cause of Nonconformance:

The cause of nonconformance was human error.

Employee response:

I am sick and tired of being harassed over and over about these forms. If you do not like the forms I am using give me the right ones. I have to worry about what product goes out to the right customer, not about the paper I am righting on. (This is a nice way of saying what really was in the report.)

I asked, why they have not been able to close this out? Their response was, that the person got fired after their response. There was fear instilled in every employee, that was the management style of the plant manager and it carried through to the audit process.

Welcome to My Garden!

I know this is a strange title, but I could not think of anything better to describe this other audit I went on. This was a smaller operation. The plant manager met myself and another auditor at the door. During the opening meeting we met the whole company that could be pulled from the operation. In front of the whole group, the plant manager stated: "We think we have a great system here. We've been working hard on it. We want you to thoroughly review it,pick at it, and pull it apart because we want to make it better."

There was a buzz around the place. All employees were nervous from excitement, not from fear. There was a sense of pride in their voices, when they described their jobs. When a nonconformance was even hinted at a small team assembled in someones office and started to discuss the solution. I thought to myself , if I ever think about going to work for someone again, I will look up this manager and say I want to work for you.

Turning Audit Process to a Positive Force for Change

The first step to changing how the audit process affects your bottom line starts with the executive team of an organization. The executive team needs to understand that any process you design is like an ongoing experiment. As employees implement it they try different things. When they do things differently, is because human nature drives us to try and make things easier on ourselves.

Sometimes employees miss tasks because they are not important, or they waste time. Sometimes they change things because it is a faster way or better way to do something. If forms are not being filled out, it usually means that the information that is missing on the form is not being reviewed by anyone.

Using audit process for a positive change means that audit findings are viewed as opportunities, not as tools for determining guilt. Having useless findings, mostly related to documentation will usually mean that the person who is auditing does not know much about the process and is unable to find value adding opportunities.

CHANGE FOCUS, train auditors to look at the best of the best, not just the worst of the worst. So much focus in audit process is to find what went wrong. What happened when you did it RIGHT? What did the employees do when they made the best batch ever? What did the employees do when the customer came back and said great job! That's what your audit process needs to include.

Danuta Highet

Foqus, Inc. June, 2007

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