There is more than one way of looking at a quality audit. You can look at an audit in a positive light, as some companies do; they look at internal and third-party audits as opportunities for improvement. Your company will never be perfect; ergo, there is always room for improvement. That’s why well-run companies tend to regard audits as highly beneficial.
You might, on the other hand, look at a quality audit as a necessary evil. You don’t want to have your processes audited because:
- Audits take time and people away from where they’re needed;
- There is never a good time to be audited;
- Audits always mean trouble;
- Auditors are always finding weaknesses;
- Auditors come in telling us how to do our job; and
- The result of most audits is more work for an already overtaxed staff.
In this case, our practices are audited only under duress. It takes a serious and immediate threat — such as losing an accreditation, losing our business license, heavy fines, and/or the cost of a court action — to get us to allow a quality audit. And when it does happen, we’re reluctant participants on our better days.
At other times, we treat quality auditors as invaders — rampaging marauders, come to pick us apart. We stall them for time, ignore them, interfere with their progress, argue with them continually, and even lock the door when we see them coming. Why? Well, two critical components of any audit are company culture and human nature.
It is second nature for people to take the easy way out of a situation — to look for the quick and cheap solution to a problem. We typically prefer the path of least resistance because “we’re wired that way”.1 When the company culture mirrors or amplifies that attitude in its behavior — it doesn’t matter what they say or how they say it — the employees will naturally go along. Quick and cheap often leads to poor quality — and ex-customers.
Businesses ought to look forward to quality audits. Quality auditing is still one of the best methods for improving product and process quality. Furthermore, frequent audits lessen the likelihood that our organizations will deviate, accidentally or intentionally, from meaningful and responsible goals and objectives.
Whether we’re simply looking for compliance or a better way to run our businesses, quality management makes a whole lot of sense. Quality auditing is a key component of effective quality management systems (you can look it up in ISO 9001).
How about your organization? Do you look forward to quality audits or shy away from them? What part does quality auditing play — or should it play — in your company culture?
(Auditors, no names, please, but what’s the worst treatment you ever received from a company you audited?)
1Kahneman, Daniel, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (Oct., 2011), 512 pp. ISBN-13 #978-037427563-1.