The 3 C’s of Internal Auditing: Communication, Culture, and Coordination

Lacey Keesee
Contributing Writer

For some companies and departments, the "A" word is dreaded and met with suspicion or even resentment. But audits, especially internal audits, are tools managers can and should use to drive improvement and support positive change. There are many reasons that a company should perform an internal audit. In the food and beverage industry, GFSI standards require internal audits. In other industries, companies may have internal requirements, and internal audits are a great way to perform health checks regarding quality and safety systems. 

The benefits of performing internal audits are numerous, from identifying gaps in lines and processes to highlight training issues to uncovering culture gaps within the system. By identifying these issues, manufacturers are better able to prepare for external audits. However, internal audits are only valuable tools if companies can incorporate the 3 C’s of Internal Auditing: Communication, Culture, and Coordination. Let’s dive into ways to make internal audits more successful.

1. Communication 

No one likes a surprise on the line, and that includes a surprise internal audit. The premise behind a surprise audit, whether internal or external, is to get an accurate and truthful snapshot, taken at random. But internal audits can accomplish excellent results without being sudden and unexpected. To meet your goal of getting an accurate snapshot while maintaining good relationships with everyone involved. Here are a few methods and tools for creating clear communication to make the most out of your internal auditing process:

  • Internal Audit Schedule - Create an internal audit schedule document that helps auditors, management, and operators plan out the year

  • Audit Management Software - Implement Audit Management software that can automate notifications so that everyone receives timely reminders of upcoming audits, follow-up corrective actions, etc. 

  • Auditing Documents - Utilize an auditing document or set of documents that includes applicable SOPs, company guidelines, etc., and provide them to line operators and even employees before the audit, so they know what to expect. 

  • Discuss Problems Directly - When conducting the audit, it is invaluable to have frank discussions with employees working with the processes, machines, and products every day. When auditors discover gaps in quality, discussing problems with employees can often find solutions from the workers who know the equipment best.

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What is Audit Management Software?

While walking the floor in person to perform the audit is the best way to spot issues, an audit management software can streamline the process leading up to the audit and craft and distribute the report afterward. Automating notifications and ensuring standards and compliance forms are readily available can assist operators in spotting and resolving issues before the audit begins. Audit management software can considerably reduce audit prep time, ensure resources are used wisely and place all relevant documents at the auditor’s fingertips. Built-in reporting allows managers to manage records by exception, resolving non-conformances as they occur to prioritize issues that demand immediate attention.

2. Coordination 

Coordination can reduce misunderstandings, unnecessary stress, and conflict by identifying the best times for launching an internal audit. This can be as simple as creating a schedule to manage audits using planned dates based on what is happening in that individual facility at different times of the year. For instance, if management knows an external audit is happening one month, it probably is not a good idea to have an internal audit at the same time. Instead, auditors can schedule internal audits to be light and preparatory for the external audit. By coordinating the best times and days to do internal audits with supervisors, line leaders, and anyone else involved in the audited processes, the whole process can be much less stressful and, thus, more successful. A few things to keep in mind when coordinating your internal audit: 

  • Timing is Key - Make sure that you are coordinating with the key people involved. Auditors should take care to be mindful of timing when coordinating the audit schedule with people.

  • Don’t be Afraid to Reschedule - Even the best-laid plans may need rescheduling. If operators are having a terrible day, it might not be the greatest time to go out and do the audit. Maintaining a flexible window to coordinate for possible rescheduling is respectful and ultimately will probably result in a better audit than forcing the audit on a bad day. 

  • Be Understanding - There are a lot of variables at play on any given day---be understanding towards your team and the ways that they may need to be supported or adjust to make the most out of your internal audit. 

3. Culture

Changing the culture and shifting feelings about internal audits from negative to positive begins with talking to people and seeking buy-in before, during, and after the audit. Auditors will have greater success when starting the approach with a positive attitude and a sense of wanting to help—the goal is to identify solutions and make the everyday experience better for people. Many employees have a lot to say—but may not feel like anyone is listening. Auditors can often identify great solutions and even discover unseen issues impacting quality by talking to the people doing the work and experiencing the processes. Deep and sincere listening promotes a more positive culture shift. 

Combining the Three C’s

At the intersection of communication, coordination, and culture is an internal auditing system that drives and supports the quality target and the employees working to make it all happen. By crafting a strong and clearly defined plan, internal auditing becomes part of the natural process in the facility. Workers feel more invested in meeting quality goals and addressing auditing gaps when their quarterly or yearly goals include solutions targets. And by focusing on the final report, managers can shift the focus from the problem itself to closing out the problem and realizing improvement.

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