Auditors use standardised checklists when conducting internal audits so you can track outcomes over time. By including very specific questions on the checklist, you standardise the audit and make it possible for your most junior people to be able to conduct audits. This keeps costs to a minimum.
By using the same checklist every time you audit, you can compare the outcome this time with the last. You observe that the number of non-conformances being found has decreased. This decrease of non-conformances would appear to represent an improvement. However, despite this improvement from compliance audits, other measures and indicators may provide conflicting information that the process being audited is not improving at all. This is what we call the compliance audit trap.
The compliance audit trap is where organisations continue to look in the same place month after month and year after year being lulled into a false sense of security as the number of non-conformance findings reduce. This is what we discovered happening back in the 1990’s. In Compliance Mindset Only Leads to Mediocrity, I cover what went wrong with the internal audit programmes in many companies that were early adopters of ISO 9001 certifications.
Internal auditing has progressed over the 25 years since. We know that compliance auditing is a trap that leads to mediocrity. We also know that excellence in auditing today involves three key areas. The first is to ensure compliance which is what all organisations have traditionally done. The second area is to mitigate risk, while the third is to drive continual improvement efforts. It is these last two areas that I find most organisations fail to take advantage of. Yet they can be so much better if they use all three areas in planning and conducting their internal audits.
How to avoid the compliance audit trap?
To maximise the value from your audit programme and avoid the compliance audit trap, there are three actions you need to take;
For more on how you can get more value from your audit programme, you can watch a replay of the Auditing for Excellence webinar.
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