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Auditing – at the dawn of opportunity

Part 4: Revising the business model

It is not in an organization’s interest to skimp on its assessment program. But, management needs to be convinced of its cost-benefits. The track record suggests auditors have been less than effective in that. Indeed, everyday expensive advertisements in newspapers, prestigious magazines and on television show business willingly pays to announce quality awards conferred by J.D. Power & Associates, thereby considering they have greater cache than ISO 9K styled certificates or the Malcolm Baldrige Award – America’s “flagship” quality award. The latter two seldom if ever feature in TV ads.

To move forward necessitates a root and branch overhaul of the governing bodies, committee membership, standards and so forth. It is in the interests of all who wish to earn a living as assessors to campaign for one. My experience suggests a revised business model should embrace the following, as a minimum:

• Expectations of and requirements for being a professional assessor will broaden and deepen so the requisite qualifications and training schemes must be revised accordingly. A profession cannot risk allowing other than the most diligent/ qualified people to be qualified as assessors, notably in such sensitive industries where health and safety are involved.

• Discredited and ineffective methods, training courses, qualification schemes and so forth must be discarded. (The old docs and sticker stuff has had its day.) This will require a willingness to resist the demands for diluting or compromising upgraded requirements those unwilling to change, the incompetent and the underperforming will make to protect themselves in preference to supporting our profession. If necessary, they must be politely shown the door!

• Offering solutions must become a main feature of the assessment service. Management wants this, as its pursuit of initiatives such as six sigma shows. Concerns about “conflict of interest”, COI, need discarding. As we have observed from the millennium’s scandals in the financial auditing world, the real concern, for COI, is that an assessor might collude in covering up malfeasance, malpractice or malfunction because of pressure exerted by the real paymaster. Trying to help through offering advice on business improvement is a totally different matter: it can only help the various stakeholders involved. And, events prove, advice and assistance is what management – our customers – wants.

Having carefully considered the matter, it is my view that internal auditors’ phony COI concerns are a major reason why ISO 9K programs have been less effective than they should, why management has become frustrated with them and why registration numbers are falling.

• In discarding COI concerns, registrars must be permitted to offer help and advice. Contrary to common belief, I would like to see a stronger registration industry. It is something for which I have pressed since the late 1980s. Indeed, my belief in the need for a professional registration service can be found in all of my management audit books dating back to my first manuscript, written in 1978. Also to see them prospering through being more involved in business performance matters The regulations need changing to allow them to do so and the registrars themselves need to learn about and undertake value assessments. Being a high profile part of “auditing”, the quality of their service has a major influence on management’s opinion of our profession. In my view it is time we removed those restraints imposed on registrars. But, safeguards concerning how they will then discharge their duties will be needed. (Current space and time constraints prevent from further elaborating.)

• It is misleading to argue that assessors are not responsible for quality. This belief must be corrected. While it is true, in the direct sense of not being the process owners, assessors are placed in a position of trust to advise whether or not the organizations’ policies, practices and procedures will be efficacious. A key duty is to advise of risk: for this, the assessor must comprehend the consequences of failure.

Only the most foolhardy manager ignores a written assessment report that raises verifiable facts of inefficacy and of risk. In the absence of that advice, is it unreasonable to suppose management will decide to proceed knowing not the associated risks?

• When studying nuclear engineering, at the University of Strathclyde, as the course concerning radiation began, my professor projected explicit photographs showing the effects of radiation on human beings. When working in the nuclear power industry I never forgot those sickening images. Later, when joining the offshore oil industry, a frightening movie recording an actual “blow-out” of an oil platform, forcibly demonstrated the vulnerability of the platform workers.

The consequences of poor quality and sloppy auditing were made apparent by those experiences: they probably made me a better auditor and are responsible for my maxim, “Never lose sight of the product”.

So, I contend assessors should be required to see similar, graphic material pertinent to their industry’s products, and that it should be a mandatory part of their training. They need to fully comprehend the consequences of failure. Assessment is not a game. It is not a cash cow. It is serious business.

Why are you here?

The bifurcation of quality and other events show management has taken the initiative to get the service it wants: with or without the audit profession being its providers. We must not be left behind, becoming an irrelevance. There may not be another dawn like the one now before us. In 1995, at your Baltimore Conference and in 1999, in Houston, I advised of the need to offer a value added service: value assessing will be that service unless it is destroyed by the usual admixture of sleazy consultants and trainers stealing the expression and labeling their same old wine bottles with it.

As you attend this conference, some personal introspection is advisable: ask yourself, why are you here, what are your goals and personal professional standards? What are the standards you believe are appropriate for our profession and how can you be of assistance in raising them. What is needed to benefit your employer? Is this conference helping? Do not be afraid to provide constructive feedback about the presentations you attend, especially if you think they are not conducive to professional improvement. You may not personally get involved in standards committees and similar, but each of you is vital to the success of this profession: your contribution is important.

Make this conference the dawn of your new professional life. Unprecedented opportunities are at hand; we only need to respond appropriately.

© 2005 Allan Sayle Associates. All rights reserved.


Allan J. Sayle
Allan J. Sayle
President Allan Sayle Associates
Allan J. Sayle has published numerous articles and delivered major speeches around the world in his 35 years experience. His book "Management Audits", ISBN 0951173901, now in its 3rd edition was first written in 1978 and is acknowledged as the "classic" and "definitive" text on that subject. Sayle is also acknowledged as the originator of the "Process Approach" (or "Task Element" approach) to auditing and quality programs, a method he developed in the early 1970s and which is now the de facto approach used around the world: the process approach is now at the heart of ISO 9001:2000. He is a pioneer of value-added audits. Allan Sayle's seminal work in Quality Management has influenced every practising quality professional. More information is available at his web site www.sayle.com.




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