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What To Do When There’s An Audit

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“Quick! Hide the Junk Food… Mom’s Home!” These words were spoken more than once when I was growing up (sorry, mom…). Do you know that feeling of dread? That empty pit in the bottom of your stomach when you are about to be scrutinized? Are you frustrated by the ‘outsiders’ who come in and don’t have a realistic view of the day to day work you do? We all face the same challenges when it comes time to be audited, so here are a few key points to remember.

First and foremost, use it as a learning opportunity and know that auditors are doing their job just like we are. Inevitably, there will be some opportunities for improvement after any site visit so we must be sure to take notes, learn from their experience and ideas and be open minded about options as we move forward. The more amenable we are to the conversation, the smoother the day will go. If we are hostile or shut-off, chances are the auditors won’t be sympathetic or understanding. Also know it is their job to bring those learning opportunities with the,. Yes, that means they are looking for something ‘wrong’ but they are there for the same reason we are: to see the organization succeed. We don’t need to prepare for battle: auditors are not the enemy.

When we have advance notification about an upcoming audit, there are two keys to remember: be prepared but be honest.

First: Be Prepared. This means thinking through the operations and outlining what we want to highlight to an outside audience. Think about how you explain ‘what you do’ when people ask where you work. We give an overview, talk about the successes we’ve had, the ideas we are fostering and the processes we are improving. By planning ahead of time what we want to discuss, we can more easily navigate the conversation to an area that we feel comfortable with, rather than coming in blind. It’s also a great best practice to have questions for the auditors. It shows we are concerned with the same issues that they are already going to address and are proactively seeking partnerships to find the best resolution. (**be careful not to save urgent questions just because an audit is coming-address those immediately or it may look like we aren’t in touch with reality.)

Second: Be Honest. In my previous life in retail, anytime our District Manager would tell us he was coming, we went into full on panic mode. ‘Quick! Do all the superfluous things we should have already done that we put off!’  -or- ‘Quick! Let’s guess what he wants to talk about this time and try to fix that area at the last minute!’ Inevitably, the visit wouldn’t even cover what we tried to prepare for and we would get dinged on something totally unrelated because we were distracted by our panic. When you ‘over-prep’ for an audit we demonstrate to our team a failure to plan ahead (why weren’t these things already complete), a failure to hold people accountable (who allowed these things to slip through uncomplete) and a dangerous example of trying to ‘hide’ the truth from the boss (as the leader of any team, how we treat your boss will be a direct reflection of how our associates interact with us).

Both of these points direct us to an obvious truth that we allow ourselves to be distracted from every day: we should be doing ‘audit prep’ little by little as we are going rather than waiting (or worse, not doing it at all).

The next tip to remember is: Avoid making false promises. If we did find ourselves scrambling at the last minute to prepare for an audit (or really anytime there’s a deadline) we probably told ourselves when it was over that we won’t ‘ever do that again’ but then fall back into same habits. Yes, we can be relieved that it’s over and relax a little but if we don’t make an actual plan with goals and personal deadlines (and stick to it), by the time the next audit rolls around, we are going to be pulling our hair out again. It’s a vicious cycle and a hard habit to break: we can justify every fire that we put out as the reason why we get into this jamb but if we know the fires are coming ahead of time, is it really a fire? Or is it just poor time management? The only people we hurt are ourselves when we aren’t honest about our approach and commitment to making a change.

Last: Follow up after the meeting to show progress and action taken. After the findings are written up and filed, many teams will find themselves stuffing the report in a drawer, never to return to it again (or until they are scrambling last minute, but we’ve fixed that already, right?). If the auditor does not require a follow up, the most impressive and mindful business decision we can make is to submit our own report a few weeks later. Highlight each finding the auditors made and discuss what changes we have made to alleviate that concern, being sure to address each item, even if the resolution is ongoing, so the auditing team will know we’ve got it covered. And the cherry on top would be to highlight the outcomes of what happened after we made the changes. Did their recommendations help? Do we have concerns about the outcome? It’s a great way to keep the lines of communication open knowing this will not be the last time our teams work together (and it may even get us a pass on the next round of audits because they trust that we took the action they recommended and followed up).

By using an audit as a learning opportunity, planning ahead for the conversation and being honest about the reality of the job, avoiding the same mistakes over and over and following up after the reports have been filed we will find that this process becomes less about that empty pit feeling at the bottom of our stomachs and more about an opportunity to improve and succeed.

Kellen Sweny is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Mark Hammer

Bingo on that first point. People too often perceive audits as an adversarial exercise, where the other side’s goal is to find fault. Remember that auditors do not dedicate their lives to auditing YOU. They have a lot of other organizations to audit, so they keep an eye open for good and commendable practices, because they want to know what’s realistically possible. And if your organization is already doing that, then *your* audit becomes part of the benchmark for assessing other organizations/units. And if there is something that others are already doing that would serve your organization well, that will come out in the audit.

Profile Photo Kellen Sweny

Yes! I love to hear those ‘best practices’ that other groups may have found to help them perform at their best and then share what we are doing in our office that could be beneficial to others as well. Thanks for reading!

Profile Photo Jane

Remember, as long as you are doing your job correctly, you have nothing to fear from an auditor. Look at it this way, they are hired to prove that you are doing your job correctly, and if possible, help you to find more efficient ways to get the work accomplished.