In my last article, I talked about how you can take steps to simplify your management system. But as a true systems expert, I like to deal with the root cause of a complex problem. The other cause of the creation of a management system is a failure to critically analyse feedback from auditors and consultants.
You know how it is, you’re in the cut and thrust of an audit by an external auditor. The auditor makes an observation that you could do things more efficiently. You may not have even been in the room when the suggestion was made. Hey presto, a condition appears in your report to do X to your form or processes to ensure compliance with “the requirements”. At the end of the audit you’re just too exhausted to argue and gratefully accept this helpful “suggestion”.
To make life easy you change your system to keep the auditor happy. Your staff may grumble but you explain it’s what the auditor wants. Over the years, more and more of these “helpful” suggestions are implemented but the system just does not hang together. You’re trapped in a system that is unwieldy and you and your staff feel like a slave to the system. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for no system to be in place. Systems are great because they help fallible humans like myself to perform tasks correctly when we are tired, sick or busy. But I do object to writing the same information multiple times in a certain spot, just to keep an auditor happy.
So what to do to prevent this? First and foremost, know the requirements! Dig them out or download a copy, go to the section on the topic of interest and meaningfully read what the clauses are stating. It is very rare for a requirement to state to record a piece of data in a particular way (save for test methods, which often give information on significant figures and supporting information to be recorded). Get your staff to know the requirements too. You don’t need to be able to repeat them to an auditor verbatim- leave that task to an auditor’s trivia night- but you should at least have a reasonable idea whether there are any requirements on the topic, and a general understanding of the types of things required. Ideally and your staff should do this just before the audit so that it is fresh in your memory.
Next, know what you want to get out of your system. The quality objectives that I wrote about in my previous article are a great starting point. These objectives can provide the clarity you need to decide what’s important, what you want to achieve. Ask yourself, “Is my current system allowing me to realise these objectives?” If it is, then think hard whether you really need to change the system then advocate that position to the auditor. Perhaps the auditor did not fully appreciate how your system fits together. Perhaps the auditor did not understand what you are trying to achieve. Perhaps the auditor had not been exposed to “your way of doing things” and was used to seeing things done a certain way. Use your quality objectives and your knowledge of the requirements and system to your tactical advantage!
The other alternative is that the auditor could, in fact, be correct. Perhaps the system isn’t as efficient as it could be. The auditor might have missed the mark on what should be changed, but she might have been onto something. Take the fact that someone outside your organisation has observed your systems with a set of fresh eyes and noted inefficiencies of some type. Use this as a prompt to critically evaluate your system through unbiased eyes and ask the big, brave question, “Am I a slave to the system and can things change?”
If you’re not sure where to start with critically evaluating auditors’ feedback, want help in understanding the criteria against which you are being audited, or just know things are not working with your system, get in contact with us at MAS Management Systems. We’ve had lots of experience with taming the savage systems beast and teaching people on how to deal with auditor feedback.