Top 5 Ways to Facilitate Communication between Internal Auditing and Operations
By: Andrea Roope, Quality Assurance Manager
“In many ways, effective communication begins with mutual respect, communication that inspires, and encourages others to do their best.”-Zig Ziglar
When working as internal audit, sometimes, communicating with Operations can be challenging. More often than not, the words “Quality Assurance” or “Internal Audit” are usually associated with negativity. Let’s face it, there’s no easy way to spin internal auditing without having to tell Operations where the gaps are in their processes and, constructive or not, most people don’t like to be criticized. Like Zig Ziglar said, there has to be mutual respect. Without it, there will be a lack of communication and encouragement within the company, so how do you go about building that mutual respect? Here are 5 of the top ways to do so –
- Be honest – no surprises. The first thing you should always remember as an internal auditor, is to be honest. Be upfront about what you plan to audit for. Before beginning any internal audit, you should provide Operations with an audit plan that explains exactly what you plan on doing. Give them the opportunity to provide feedback or make (reasonable) changes. Also, provide the managers with a copy of the audit checklists and encourage them to share them with their teams, so that everyone is aware of what’s going on, not just upper or middle level management. This will help eliminate any “surprises” of what’s forthcoming.
- Be positive. As an internal auditor, it is your job to point out gaps in processes, what they did wrong, or what they could do better. But what did they do right? Make it part of your monthly report to management to include the positive side of what they did as well. Point out a specific employee who, based on your review, always does their part of the process correctly, or a process that your audits show is working as it should. Maybe even acknowledge a manager who took action to effectively correct an issue.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but do so without making it a challenge. It’s an auditor’s job to ask questions. However, when a question is asked in a challenging way, it is likely that you could put the person on the receiving end on the defense. This also leads back to having mutual respect between the two lines of business. For example: “Why didn’t you complete the task?” This question tells the person that you already feel as if they failed, when in reality there could be a good explanation. A better question to ask would be: “I noticed that there is a pattern of non-conformances for this task. Is this something you could take a look at?” By asking the question in this way, it gives the person the chance to review the issue and provide a more informed response instead of feeling like they need to defend themselves.
- Give realistic recommendations. Consider available resources before making recommendations. If Operations doesn’t think it can be done – they’re going to stop listening to your recommendations. When reviewing audit results and non-conformances, feel free to provide the manager with a recommendation. If it is something outside of Operation’s power, such as hiring more staff or even replacing people with technology, then the likelihood of the recommendation being implemented is slim.
- Participate. Ask Operations to include you in on any upcoming trainings or recurring department meetings. It’s best to not to make any recommendations without the knowledge to back it up. Internal auditors expect Operations to know what the process is, but we should also have a general idea of it as well. Understanding how Operations develops their processes can help an auditor better understand some of the gaps and provide better feedback. This also shows Operations that you take an interest in what they do as well as making you more efficient at your job as an auditor.
At the end of the day, Compliance and Operations have to stick together understand each other and work towards the same goal. Author, speaker, and executive coach, Joel Garfinkle, once said “Make sure you are understood. Don’t blame the other person for not understanding. Instead, look for ways to clarify or rephrase what you are trying to say so it can be understood.” Never assume that Operations fully understands you or that you fully understand Operations. Compliance and Operations may be separated by function, but it’s by a thin line at best.