The mention of an audit is rarely met with excitement. Many people feel that being audited is a negative process and that auditors are simply looking for mistakes. This misconception is often the reason that companies avoid carrying out internal audits, and this is a real shame as they are extremely beneficial.
Internal audits help you identify where improvements can be made in your business. You can see exactly where the inefficiencies are in your processes, and more importantly, find out directly from your teams how they can be addressed.
An effective audit is about being proactive rather than reactive and finding good practice, not just bad. Unfortunately, too many companies conduct audits as a tick box exercise, using basic checklists to get through the process as quickly as possible.
While checklists can be a useful tool, I believe that internal audits should involve far more than simply ticking a few boxes. An internal audit is an excellent opportunity to delve into the business operations and find out first-hand how effective your processes are. You can only do this by talking to employees about what they are doing and capitalising on what you see and hear.
By using audits to focus on processes, not simply to maintain compliance, you’ll get greater value from them. Your processes and procedures should all be created to meet the needs of your customers and add value to your business, not just satisfy regulators.
Regardless of whether you are already carrying out internal audits to satisfy ISO auditors, or have never considered an internal audit before, here are my tips for getting the most from an internal audit.
You can’t simply arrive in the office one day and decide that you’re going to carry out an audit there and then. You need to plan. Depending on the size of your business, you may need to split an audit by department or process. How long do you want to spend with each department? Which processes will you be auditing?
If you have documented processes or flowcharts in place, familiarise yourself with these to know whether they are being followed and whether they are even still relevant. Print them out so you can compare them with what is actually being done.
Let your team know that you will be conducting audits. Otherwise, it will give employees the impression that you don’t trust them or are trying to catch them out. Surprise audits are only really beneficial if you suspect there are underhand or illegal goings-on.
Explain to your employees that the purpose of the audit is not to catch them out. Let them know that you are interested in finding out where processes can be improved to benefit both them and your customers. The more relaxed your employees are about the audit, the more likely they are to be honest during the auditing process.
Ditch lengthy checklists in favour of open questioning and curiosity. This doesn’t mean you should interrogate employees; it means getting them to open up about the processes they go through.
Get them to talk you through the process, showing you what they are doing at each stage; compare what they have told you to the written policy.
If employees are not following processes, don’t treat it as a negative. Find out why they are not following processes. Is it down to training? If there are no proper training programmes in place, then processes will be passed on by word of mouth, meaning bad habits and shortcuts get passed on.
Equally, employees may have developed their own processes for doing things which turn out to be more efficient than the written policy. Is it because the existing process is unnecessarily complex? Is it impacting on the quality of the products or services being delivered to the customer?
Good auditors understand that they are dealing with people, not robots, and people have personalities and opinions and insight.
Make notes throughout the auditing process. If you have used checklists for some parts of the audit, include any relevant observations. Document all your findings and use them to develop an improvement plan.
Compare what you have seen and heard with written policies and processes. Speak to department heads – do the processes you have witnessed match up to how they believe things are being done.
Which processes are working well, which ones need changing and which are not being followed at all? Do the systems you have in place support the processes and do the processes support the needs of the customer?
Once you have completed your audit and recorded the findings, you need to act on those findings. Where do you need to make changes?
Be aware of how any changes will affect the wider business. New processes in one department may negatively impact results in another department. A better sales process may increase orders, but this could put pressure on those responsible for fulfilling the orders, which will impact on customer satisfaction. Before you implement any change, plan carefully and carry out a risk assessment.
Involve your employees in putting together plans for improvement. They can create up to date flowcharts, suggest effective training plans and share ideas for improving efficiency. By involving your employees in the processes, you not only get relevant insight, but you also improve engagement. Employees are more likely to follow procedures that they have created.
It can take time for new processes to become embedded, and during this process, issues may come to light that weren’t picked up in the planning stage. Once you have implemented any new systems or processes, you need to review them to ensure they are working.
There may simply be a few minor tweaks required, or you may find that the change has had a dramatic impact on results, either negative or positive. What will the next steps be?
Improvement should be continuous – it’s impossible to achieve a perfect business, so processes need to be constantly reviewed.
Get an outsider’s perspective
Carrying out an internal audit can be a big task. It can also be difficult to remain objective if you are close to the business. That’s why it is often beneficial to bring in an external consultant to conduct an internal audit.
They will be looking at your business with a fresh pair of eyes. They’ll be asking the questions you might not have thought about. They will enable you to better understand your business operations and your employees. Their insight could be the key to growing your business and improving results.
I have completed the same qualifications as ISO auditors, but have also developed my own strategies for getting to the heart of how a business operates. I can carry out a thorough internal audit of your business.
Not only will I help you identify inefficiencies in your business, which may be costing you, I will also help you put together a plan for improvement and enable you to implement it effectively.
If you’d like to know more about how to carry out an internal audit successfully and what to do with the findings, then get in touch. I’d be happy to assist you in planning your audit or conducting your internal audits and helping you move your business to the next stage.