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.
Here are a few tips for business owners interested in reviewing their operations:
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 experts 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 1 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-conformance is 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. Measure and 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.
8. Think about what’s 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 can often be found by answering the very important question of what is in it for them to engage with the process.
9. Be a customer. Audit the way things are seen from the viewpoint of your customer by asking yourself: what’s working, what is not and what would make a big difference?
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.
Whether you are looking to improve customer satisfaction, operational excellence, safety performance, environmental stewardship, information security or reduce risk of business disruption, a well-run internal audit process can become a key performance tool to make excellence a habit.
Gary Robinson is the commercial director for BSI (British Standards Institution) Canada , one of the world’s first standards organizations. BSI equips businesses with the necessary solutions to turn standards of best practice into habits of excellence.
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