Internal audits a good or a bad thing?
Internal audits are an essential part of checking that procedures and processes are working. A problem can be that staff generally really don’t like to be audited. Many see it as being ‘checked up on’, looking for criticism, or that they will get a black mark against them. I understand this. I used to work for an organisation where we carried out peer audits. We had to check our peers’ work and ensure that all documentation was accurate, where it should be and to report any findings to our managers. I can honestly say that we all hated doing it. We felt it was a very negative experience and if we found anything amiss we would (against orders) contact the auditee and give them the heads up so that they could rectify the mistake or fill in the gap. Sadly because it hadn’t been explained to us the benefit in carrying out these audits and because the results were actually used to criticise staff, the results of the audits were somewhat skewed, meaning that the opportunities – to learn and to improve – were completely lost.
It can be difficult to convince staff that audits are a good thing. The way I tend to explain it is to say that the internal audit is to check the processes work, not the people carrying out the process.
I was at an internal audit recently where I was following a process which was regarding performance evaluation data. It involved the data being automatically generated, manually typed into a spreadsheet and manually written into a book. When I asked what happened to the book, I was told it was put on a shelf, never to be looked at again. When I asked why? I was met with blank stares and the answer was, ‘because the process says so’. I questioned was the process correct? Before I left that day, the staff and management had discussed the process, changed it and discarded the book and the spreadsheet. I was told that this would save the admin staff about an hour a week.
I have found that the most successful internal audits are those that are carried out very frequently – maybe just parts of a whole process. This has the benefit of not taking up as much time in one go and staff are more used to it, rather than the dreaded audit time. I also find that companies I go into that have several external audits a year – because of the various certifications and accreditations they have – are far more relaxed when I go in, both management and staff. It isn’t such a big deal to them.
When carrying out an internal audit the organisation shall ‘select auditors and conduct audits to ensure objectivity and impartiality of the audit process’. What does this mean? Basically that whoever is carrying out the audit cannot be the one who had done the work that is being audited.
Simple, yet you might be surprised to find that many companies haven’t quite grasped it. This can be more difficult in smaller companies, but with the use of well thought out templates to ensure that the right evidence is being looked at, there is no reason why someone from a completely different team cannot carry out an audit on a process that they do not actually use.
I would always ask that internal audits have an appropriate level of evidence recorded. So, not just a tick box – but maybe listing the date of the e-mail seen, who sent the letter and which version of a template used, project numbers etc.