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
Health department inspections
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.
Digital Transformation Tips to Improve Your Food Safety Culture
It’s become a cliché, but we all know what it means when we hear “there’s an app for that,” referring to taking a physical process and making it digital. While the digital evolution has been widespread, sometimes it takes longer for businesses to pivot their existing systems, such as with digital audit tools. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a catalyst to more rapidly move away from paper-oriented processes toward a digital format as organizations seek to facilitate information sharing and quickly adapt to fast-moving regulations.
If you’ve been hesitant to move processes to a digital format, now might be the time as we see the convergence of two important trends — the rising efficiencies of digital audit tools and an increased focus on food safety culture.
One concrete step is moving your in-store processes and other quality management systems from manual to digital, thus allowing more frequent checks and better visibility into how your food safety culture is performing. If you’re planning to initiate a move, here are some digital transformation tips to help you achieve buy-in.
1. Show your commitment first.
As we discussed in a recent post on boosting your organization’s food safety culture, the adoption of any new tool must start with a top-down focus. After all, if you don’t believe in a new tool like a mobile auditing app, neither will your team.
That includes becoming well-versed on the ins and outs of the safety assessment checklists and digital audit tools through firsthand experience. By knowing how the mobile auditing app works yourself, you can introduce them and underscore the benefits with authentic enthusiasm, as well as answer practical usage questions your team will have.
2. Position it as an addition or upgrade, not a replacement to your current process and systems.
Let your team know that your store’s goals remain the same. With the new mobile app, you are taking what you already do and just improving on it. It helps to focus on the value digital audit tools can provide, beyond just serving as an assessment or checklist tool.
Show your team how it will enhance your food safety culture by offering:
Better visibility: With more complete and frequent assessments, inspections, and audits, you can help bolster customer confidence in your health and safety protocols, a key consideration in the post-COVID-19 environment.
More helpful training opportunities: Your employees are grappling with a number of new procedures designed to increase health and safety, and this allows for more through and consistent training.
Faster corrective action: Mobile auditing apps encourage you to conduct audits and inspections more consistently, and then provide instant feedback on failed items so you can work with your team to fix the issue and review how to avoid it.
3. Help employees feel “ownership” of the new system.
While the goal is to encourage adoption, the key is in the tone. Even if change is eventually positive, it’s human nature to be resistant. However, a new option is more acceptable if the user determines it’s something that benefits them. So, instead of “mandating” use with a directive, show the value and build a passion that will inspire your team to want to use a mobile auditing app.
Start by explaining why digital audit tools are important — namely, to help achieve a more robust food safety culture. Focus on the benefits a positive food safety culture offers them specifically, including more personal safety, a more collaborative team spirit, and better store performance, which is positive for everyone. And then explain how mobile auditing apps can make their jobs easier and help keep them and customers safe.
Finally, remember that everyone likes acknowledgement: Consider implementing a reward system based on adoption, perhaps a small gift or a special pin they can wear. But make it clear that the reward isn’t based on results, but rather for giving the new system a try. Chances are good that once they try it, they will realize how intuitive and beneficial the digital audit tools are.
Whether you run a restaurant, grocery store, or convenience mart, you need a business plan for recovery from COVID-19. As you restart business operations after the pandemic, the key is to invest in your food safety culture. Strengthening your food safety culture can not only help you regain customer confidence but also prepare you to weather future crises.
Here are three steps to get you started.
1. Get executive support.
Initiatives without support from leadership rarely succeed, which is why you must ensure top executives understand your rationale. Emphasize how a strengthened food safety culture can not only improve the company’s bottom line but also foster team cohesion and help meet corporate social responsibility (CSR) objectives. To get and keep their buy-in, be sure to also seek their input when crafting your plan for improving your company’s food safety culture.
To maintain the trust and loyalty of your employees and rebuild customer confidence, it’s important you take an employee-first approach to food safety. The goal is to ensure every employee knows both the “what” and the “why” of your food safety culture.
To achieve this goal, underscore the importance of a strong and consistent food safety culture through training and communications.
For example, now is the ideal time to brush off your training materials and update them to create new best practices for front-line employees. Shockingly, many organizations are still struggling with the basics: In fact, just over half of restaurants offer a training manual or food safety certifications. Formalizing your commitment to food safety culture cements its importance.
Be sure to emphasize the measures you’re taking to address health and safety following the pandemic. Clear and consistent communications — during team meetings and safety huddles, throughout your location and in breakrooms, and in team emails and text messages — help send the message home.
Customers don’t want rhetoric from businesses; They want to see visible commitments. That’s why it’s key for your employees to know what’s expected of them.
3. Share your plan with the public.
The final component of your reopening plan is to inform the public about your food safety culture. Following COVID-19, they’ll want to hear what strategies you’re using to ensure their health and safety. So, use all the communication channels at your disposal — from email and text messages to social media and in-store signage — to publicize the precautions you’re taking.
As you seek to reopen your restaurant, grocery store, or convenience mart, you need a plan to keep employees and customers safe. Central to that plan is a strong food safety culture. By fostering executive support, gaining employee buy-in, and sharing your plan with the public, you’re sure to be successful.
Ready to check out digital solutions that help communicate, track, and improve your food safety culture efforts? Click here to learn more about RizePoint’s COVID-19 and enterprise solutions that help you gather data, gain transparency, and initiate corrective action.