Audits help determine how effectively, efficiently, and safely a business operates. They spotlight various issues about your organization’s workforce and operational processes, which can sometimes be quite stressful and nerve-wracking for those involved.
But this needn’t be the case if you prepare well and follow a few universal best practices. This article gives six practical tips for wowing your auditors without the stress!
What’s the point of an audit?
Audits help maintain quality levels within companies or even across entire sectors on an ongoing basis. And there are many reasons why we conduct audits.
For example, mandatory audits often form part of the process for attaining or retaining certification, such as CERT or one of many NEN standards.
Then, there are client audits, which allow clients to determine whether quality and/or hygiene levels are high enough, for example in the food industry.
And lastly, you have self-audits, which allow organizations to improve or optimize their own operational processes.
Other terms used in conjunction with audits – internal and external – refer to who conducts the audit.
Internal audits (a.k.a. first-party audits) are conducted by someone working within your organization.
In effect, an internal audit is a management tool that companies can use to identify threats and opportunities and seek new and improved solutions.
This type of audit allows you to determine whether your operational, management, or planning processes could be running more efficiently, effectively, or affordably.
External audits are conducted by impartial, independent auditors from outside your organization – often from certification authorities – to determine whether your organization meets prescribed standards.
These might include legal, regulatory, environmental, or health & safety-related requirements and standards.
It’s common to conduct external audits periodically, often annually, and to address a far narrower area of focus than an internal audit, for example a single standard or certification.
What do audits involve?
But what do audits involve exactly? What’s the process? In practice, audits vary a great deal from type to type, but they all follow a few set basic steps – prepare, perform, publish, pursue.
As for any structured process, an audit requires proper preparation and planning, i.e. which parts of your organization and/or quality systems do you want to audit? Another important consideration involves examining the results of your previous audits.
Once you’ve finished your preparations, it’s time to perform the audit. This involves investigating whether your organization meets specific standards or requirements for certification or other purposes.
Auditors look for evidence and gather information from a range of sources, for example documentation, registration forms, personal observations, and employee interviews.
Once they’ve compiled a dossier, they start their inspection, assessment, and evaluation. Does the information tally with what employees are telling them? Does the information pinpoint anything that’s not going so well within the company?
Once auditors have completed their audit, they publish all the information and their findings in a report. This report details the issues discussed and focuses on important areas for attention or improvement. They then discuss the report’s conclusions with key managers within the organization.
The final phase involves pursuing the measures recommended by the auditors. Have you taken improvement measures in response to auditors’ recommendations? During the follow-up, they determine whether you’ve made improvements and check that they’re having the desired effect. This can be done in writing or as part of a repeat audit, depending on the situation.
Tips for audits
It can be quite nerve-wracking getting an audit, which is why you need to be as well prepared as possible. Read the tips and best practices below to breeze through your next audit.
1. Make sure departments take personal responsibility
It’s easiest to maintain quality levels when departments and employees take personal responsibility for their own work. If quality control procedures are primarily a paper tiger imposed from ahigh, then chances are you’ll fail a surprise visit from an auditor. If you make your operators responsible for the quality of their operational processes and conduct regular checks, then quality becomes a daily focus.
2. Cultivate the right mindset
Passing or failing an audit is largely dependent on mindset. Be proactive and take a critical approach to optimizing your own processes and operating procedures. And take auditors’ findings seriously, as they often lead to interesting discussions about quality and improvements across the board.
3. Keep it simple
You don’t have to make internal testing super complex to gain meaningful insights and achieve even better results. Employees are often more than capable of carrying out these internal tests themselves and, by doing so, they maintain control over their own work. You can often replace complicated laboratory analyses with simpler and more effective inspection procedures that operators can perform themselves.
4. Be inquisitive
If you adopt a passive attitude to audits, then chances are you’ll be missing out on huge opportunities. By actively probing auditors, you can uncover a wealth of information during your audits. You’ll never learn anything new if you don’t ask. By asking questions, you’ll also learn how to interpret quality standards and how to deal directly with employees’ complaints, rather than studying abstract analyses.
5. Be critical
Don’t accept an audit’s findings unquestioningly. Have the courage to voice your thoughts if you don’t agree with a certain finding. Good auditors will be able to take critical feedback or cross-examination and gladly explain why they came to a certain conclusion. It can also result in a fruitful exchange of information and knowledge sharing.
6. Use skills matrices
Skills matrices are great tools for preparing yourself for an audit. A skills matrix is exactly what its name suggests – a snapshot of all your employees’ skills and qualifications laid out in matrix form. They list your employees’ names down the left-hand column and all the skills needed to perform a certain task along the top row (or vice versa).
Keeping track of skills in such a matrix allows you and your employees to see at a glance what everyone is capable of. This is particularly important because this information forms the basis for safeguarding operational quality levels. In the event of an audit, it’s vital that you can show all your staff have received the proper training and are fully qualified.
Stress-free audits with AG5
It’s possible to create skills matrices using spreadsheets, such as MS Excel. But beware of the pitfalls of using spreadsheets. Are your spreadsheets up to date? Are these spreadsheets immediately available and accessible in the event an auditor springs a visit on you? If not, chances are audits will be a stressful experience.
AG5 is the solution! All the information auditors need is always up to date and immediately available from a cloud-based system. This is how to pass your audits with flying colors and avoid stress.
Prepare yourself for your next audit! Use these tips and discover how AG5 could benefit your organization by scheduling a live demo!