The word ‘audit’ usually invokes fear in people, but it doesn’t have to be that
Despite organisations needing the assurance that an audit can provide, many still do not see the benefit of proactive auditing, and of those that do conduct audits, a significant portion do so purely because they feel compelled. In that situation, the need or reason for an audit is usually not well communicated across the workforce, and when an audit occurs, workers and managers can feel that this is a direct attack on how they are conducting their work. This can lead to anxiety, distrust, and workers being cautious about what they tell the auditor because they do not know how the information will be used and what the potential consequences are. Auditing is a business tool that should be used often to provide assurance that the policies, processes and procedures that should be in place have been implemented, and that they are effective and producing the expected results.
The best advice is to reduce anxiety and increase trust by being open and transparent and to prepare. Planning ahead can remove the fear and uncertainty surrounding an audit. Briefing your workers as to the reason for the audit, what to expect, where records are located, and what questions they are likely to be asked will result in improved engagement and better audit outcomes. After all, you want and need to know where your gaps are so you can fill them and become more effective as an organisation. However, don’t be tempted to over-prepare as this can cause the audit to become a bigger deal than what it needs to be and add unnecessary work and anxiety. Treat the process as if it’s business as usual – it will feel like that the more you embrace audits as a meaningful and useful business tool. To gain the benefits of an audit, organisations need to continue following their existing systems and procedures, and not rush to change them in the days leading up to the visit of the auditor.
As well as demonstrating transparency to your workers, encourage them to do the same during the auditing process. Hiding things from the auditor will likely result in more fear and stress, and it won’t provide them with a true picture of your organisation and how you usually do things. Creating a ‘façade’ defeats the purpose of an audit which is to find ways for your organisation to improve. In any case, the auditor is trained to find hidden things so the effort will likely be futile.
When an organisation is open and willing to engage with the auditor, the process can become more of a conversation than an inquisition. Both parties need to listen to each other, collaborate and plan to achieve results. Audits can provide insight in to what is working well and what needs improvement. Most organisations should want to know how they can improve, of they will end up moving backwards.
Audits should not be feared, seen as a negative compliance exercise or an unnecessary expense. If viewed in the right way and done well they can add significant value and can help improve organisational culture.