COVID-19 disrupted everything about the way business is done. Overnight, auditors were no longer able to travel, bringing audits as many companies know them to a standstill. This abrupt shift, while necessary, exposed shortfalls in auditing programs across nearly every industry.
However, I believe it also revealed opportunities now available for companies that embrace a new future of auditing. One where evaluations and data come from diverse sources from within and outside your company. One where improvement is incentivized, and quality teams can show exactly what impact they have in the company.
This future is full of potential for you to deliver on your promise of a quality experience, but it does require a shift in mindset to carry out effectively. Instead of a more traditional view of audits as an external assessment with penalties for not meeting standards, auditing needs to evolve into a cooperative, multi-dimensional process, where self-assessment is valued, and improvement is incentivized and welcomed.
The Previous Quality Model
For decades now, companies have relied on an expensive, time-consuming model of quality assessment. By either hiring a third-party auditor or sending out internal audit teams to do annual visits to every single location, you had eyes across the business but only at a single point in time from a single point of view.
Much like I go on a cleaning spree before guests come to stay for the holidays, each location was at its best for the few days an auditor was there, and then they return to their usual operations the other 363 days a year. It’s an understandable response, but one that ultimately opens your company to more risk because you are relying on one or two data points to evaluate risk and quality.
Much like I go on a cleaning spree before guests come to stay for the holidays, each location was at its best for the few days an auditor was there, and then they return to their usual operations the other 363 days a year.Kari Hensien, President of RizePoint
You knew something needed to change. However, like most quality teams, you are a small, overworked team with limited resources, which makes in incredibly difficult to get a comprehensive view of quality across the brand. Additionally, I’ve heard from many brands that evaluating locations on self-assessments was, at worst, like asking the fox to guard the henhouse, and, at best, mere “practice tests” before an external auditor or certifying body came to do the “real” audit.
Despite those concerns, I was also having conversations with clients who were thinking about how to evolve the way they looked at quality across their brand. In the most forward-thinking brands, plans were in place to begin gathering information from a wider variety of sources and developing new relationships with employees to drive honest, useful self-assessments.
Then the world changed.
Audits in the Time of COVID-19
When the pandemic hit, the notion of sending someone on an airplane to perform an audit stopped overnight. Our clients were thrown into a radical transformation no one was prepared for.
This change was apparent in the usage of our platform at RizePoint — the number of audits dropped immediately. Suddenly the first week of April had the same audit volume as the last week of December. Companies scrambled to create new policies and procedures that would keep employees safe while trying to maintain some normalcy in their operations.
Audit volume on RizePoint’s platform has rebounded; however, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in what kinds of audits are being performed. Rather than putting auditors back on planes, our customers have moved to e-audits via a video call as well as self-assessments at every location.
Their hand was forced by a global pandemic, but this was simply an acceleration of a transition we at RizePoint knew was coming.
- From 2016 to 2019, annual audits decreased from 80% to 55% of our clients’ total audit volume.
- In that same period, audits performed more than once a day rose from just 1% to 25% of client audit.
Clients have been telling us the old model was unsustainable or easy to scale, they just weren’t sure how to change. Now, with no other option than to change, we are seeing the future of auditing take shape.
If, like most companies, you are not planning to send auditors back out for the foreseeable future, then you’ve had to find ways to harness self-assessments and virtual visits, and set up your new system in a way that ensures reliable data. I see this as a two-pronged approach.
- In the short term, you can begin relying more heavily on tools built into your auditing platform such as requiring photos to be attached to certain questions, checking location data for answers, and comparing information between self-assessments and e-audits. These tools allow for a transition that is built on shared goals and creates trust.
- In the long term, it’s critical that your quality team builds a more collaborative relationship with the people being audited. Employees need to know that improving their location is a mutual goal and that audits are an opportunity to do that, rather than a “gotcha” moment. Normalizing self-assessments where employees can be honest without penalty will allow you to get regular feedback from employees on the ground as well as get valuable insight into what improvements can be made.
But what happens when we can return to some sort of normalcy?
The Future of Auditing
This is where the best of the past traditional model, and the changes necessitated by COVID-19, can come together to provide a quality process that is built with intention. You need to do more than simply dust off the old model when work begins to normalize. Instead, this time is an opportunity to modernize quality systems and come out of the pandemic with a stronger, more collaborative approach.
In addition to annual audits and self-assessments, your quality teams should look at what types of data they can add from internal and external sources. There’s no one solution for every brand, so each team has an opportunity to build the mix of information that is right for the company. Some of those things might include:
- Customer experience data from in-store surveys
- Transactional data from each location
- IOT devices that give continuous location-level information
- Employee feedback
- Health department inspections
- Social listening
- Online reviews and complaints
Bringing that information together into a single system of record provides a powerful look at quality, safety, and risk across your brand. That is why, in my previous role in product management, I prioritized building a product that provides analytical tools that marry audit data with all other data sources clients find valuable.
In this holistic model, quality teams are able to show concrete ROI by bringing together up-to-date feedback from across your organization with key external data. This shifts the perception of quality teams as a necessary evil, just another box to check, to a positive view of a proactive group driving the future of the business.
The question is not whether auditing is changing — it’s clear that it is. The question is will you try going back to business as usual, or will you or step into a bold reimagining of what quality can be and how it will elevate your business?
About the Author
Kari Hensien is continually looking to the future to help companies meet new challenges. She is currently championing a continuous quality initiative that is supported through robust self-assessment plans, a continued focus on food safety culture, and digital tools that support these goals. Kari joined RizePoint in 2017 and brings over 30 years of experience in software and quality management system software to her current role as President.