Ten tips to successfully audit your internal business operations

(Globe and Mail, Toronto, May 31, 2013) With the year-end behind us, this is an opportune time for business owners to take stock of internal operations. Why bother? Because an internal analysis, among other things, can ultimately help set the organization up for success.

Managers who are tasked with ensuring that the business is performing optimally face many challenges. From managing predicted change to reacting to unforeseen risks and issues, navigating the business landscape requires diligence. Auditing the business in a way that provides the information that managers need to make decisions is key to success.

Gary Robinson, Commercial Director for BSI Canada sees first-hand the challenges that quality managers experience when trying to effectively audit internal operations in order to improve systems and foresee potential risks.

"It is important for all managers to remember that if your organization isn‟t getting better it is going to feel like things are getting worse, even when the status quo is maintained," said Robinson. "Approaching internal business audits not with an eye towards finding what is wrong but to discover areas where things can be improved is the starting point from which we should all approach systemic reviews."

Robinson has identified ten tips for business managers to consider when looking at how to set staff up for successful internal audits:

  1. Ensure systems and processes are clear: Systems should be outlined clearly and important information needs to be accessible and identifiable in case of emergency. It is unreasonable to expect employees to respond to situations in a pre-determined way if those systems aren‟t clear.
  2. Enter the area with respect: Reinforce to employees that they are the expert in their area and you are relying on them to show you what is working and what is not working. Empowering people in this way will make the process more seamless and will generate better results.
  3. Get employees talking: The more you listen, the more information you will have to improve the way the business works. Internal audits aren‟t about telling employees what they are doing right and wrong, they are about better understanding the way the business is working in reality.
  4. Focus on every area of the organization: A one per cent improvement in 100 areas is better than a 100 per cent improvement in one area. Invest in improvement in all areas of the business.
  5. Embrace non-conformance: If the attitude towards internal audits is that the auditor is "out to get you‟, it will discourage staff to expose when things have gone wrong or aren‟t going as expected. Create an environment where non-conformances are seen as opportunities to improve the business.
  6. Shift the focus towards how to improve: Instead of looking for instances where things have gone wrong, ask employees whether or not they have thought of ways to improve processes in order to receive proactive solutions.
  7. Look for signs of weakness: Be proactive and look for areas in the business that are starting to show signs of weakness, this way you can do something to make those areas stronger before they cause a non-conformance.
  8. Measure & track key areas of the business: If a fault arises, having concrete data to help navigate the issue will save the organization time and money. When auditing systems, this information is used to distinguish between what has changed and what has stayed the same.
  9. Think about what is in it for employees: Not every employee will like or embrace others‟ idea of continual improvement. When it comes to corrective action, the path of least resistance is found by answering the very important question of what is in it for them to engage with theprocess.
  10. Provide balanced reports: It is very important to report back to staff with both positive and negative results. If results are too heavily skewed on one side or the other, you may diminish the potential for improvement.

Making excellence a habit rests on working with people to set up systems that are clear, accessible and that strive to meet determined objectives. The tips above are a starting point for any manager who is looking to review their operations in a way that will help engage employees to play a meaningful role in the improvement process.