Internal audit programs play an important role in ensuring the success of the system. ISO standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001 provide the framework for management systems to function using a process-based approach, to achieve customer and other stakeholder’s requirements. Organizations certified to ISO standards, strive to be compliant, efficient and remain certified. Successful systems have Top Management (TM) / Leadership that are committed to and engaged with the system. They ensure regular internal audits and conduct management reviews (MR) to assess the continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of the system. They further ensure that their decision-making process uses the inputs from the MR to ensure objective resourcing and support for efficiency.
External third-party audits too add value to this system, provided the auditors remain objective throughout the audit. Over the years QMII has come across instances where Non-Conformities (NC) were issued without the requirement being clearly stated or the evidence did not substantiate the requirement not met. However, these NCs are rarely challenged by organizations for “fear” of upsetting the auditors. Changes are further implemented to the system as a part of corrective action based on these findings. At times when the management is disconnected from the working system they often are surprised by the NCs presented at the closing meeting.
Is there, as a result, a case for preparing the organization for both internal audits and external audits? In well-functioning systems the organization should never have to prepare for an internal audit. The systems are designed to drive success and not for auditors or to get through audits without any NCs. NCs are, after all, an opportunity for continual improvement of the system and should be embraced, provided they are objective and not subjective to an auditor’s experience or opinion. An organization can and must respect a good NC and use it to drive correction and corrective action (CA). After all CA is NC driven. The organization/ auditee should be happy to receive a NC for risk(s) not appreciated.
I do however think that there are steps organization can take to build employee confidence in the system, including the confidence to challenge the auditor when a NC is not clear or incorrectly given. Here are eight steps an organization can do to have its employees get that confidence for internal audit and subsequently for external audits:
- Conduct orientation on the process-based management system (PBMS) approach in general, and introduction to the highlights of the specific standard (e.g. ISO 9001:2015). This ensures that the basics of system approach and the internal management system are clear to all personnel.
- All TM must do a short training to be aware of the ISO standard, the main clauses and the benefits of the management system. This awareness leaders workshop (ALW) brings the confidence in the system, its implementation and continual improvement. This leadership awareness further encourages engagement of all personnel to use the system and increases buy-in.
- On regular basis, in day to day work and meetings refer to the management system. Ensure Quality, environment, safety, security, social responsibility, compliance are topics of discussion at periodic intervals. Even the middle and lower management e.g. supervisors should be encouraged to use the system and engage others to do so. Management may have to support others in their roles of leadership at relevant levels.
- More than just following processes, all personnel must feel free and confident to challenge the process, make suggestions, raise NCs and submit innovative ideas. A participatory approach to system implementation is very cost effective. Let employees voice their concerns. Once they confident of their process and their system (with the fundamentals of the ISO Standard/other requirements built-in) the fear of audits will reduce.
- Put in place an aggressive internal audit program. When an outside (third party) auditor raises a NC, the organization does RCA (Root Cause Analysis) of the NC, but rarely does it challenge its Internal system and ask how the internal audit program missed the NC raised by the third party? Internal audits must be objective and strict and must raise all NCs.
- NCs must be tracked diligently and addressed within the time frame the organization has set for itself. TMs must stay involved by asking on the progress to the CA process. Overdue NCs must be investigated and TM must ask during the MR why the concerned department did not address it in time. Encourage PSW (Problem Solving Workshops) so teams can look at complex, inter-departmental NCs. Encourage use of tools as Causal Analysis and FMEA (Failure Mode Effect and Analysis).
- Creating a lesson learned data base has many advantages. It acts as a historic record for new joiners to learn of past occurrences. Additionally, it has great participatory value connecting each future task as a driver of improvement based on the past. The collective intelligence of the organization is available to the organization and does not vanish when individuals leave the organization.
- Some additional points for ISO 9001/ ISO 45001/AS9100 audit preparation:
- Answer audit questions to the point. Do not volunteer information not sought.
- Do not be reluctant to ask for your manager/ supervisor to support you if you are not clear on the question.
- Have the confidence in your professionalism to ask the auditor for the requirement based on which the auditor is planning to raise a NC.
- Be aware of risks associated with their process and actions taken to address them.
- Explain the risks in the context of the organization and the context of what the employee does to them.