30. Jun 2015

Audits as a challenge for companies operating in food industry – a field of tension

Lifelong learning is not only a constant topic for the individual employee. It always is the whole organization that will be concerned. Audits are levers for design and tools for enabling lifelong learning within organizations. This also opens up opportunities for companies. However, these opportunities can only be identified and utilized if certain basic requirements are taken into account. In this respect, important aspects are emotional labilization, competencies and insights.

When was it the last time that you were looking forward to an internal or external audit, just as much as to your birthday or to Christmas? Audits are rather associated with examination as well as a burden as far as time, emotions and finance are concerned and thus stand for a state of tension.

However, such a state of tension can be quite positive, similarly to stage fright before your grand entrance. The adrenalin level will be rising, and the attention of all senses will increase. There definitely are qualityaustria customers that are looking forward to audits as is shown by a glimpse taken at the archives of the qualityaustria Forum. For example, Ing. Johann Bock, owner of Becom, explained during the discussion at the 17thqualityaustria Forum: “We are glad about any hint, no matter whether it is given in the course of customer audits, internal audits or external audits.” Dr. Christoph Becker, Quality Manager at Tyco Electronics Austria GmbH (Ltd.), said the following when asked about experience made with audits: “Audits are like a mirror that we are looking at in order to see how far we have already got in our development.” Audits will often help to draw valuable conclusions about the past and thus particularly make developments visible.


Deliberate shaking

At a learning process itself, it will always be important to put what is taken for granted into question and, so to speak, “shake” the system deliberately and in a controlled manner. This is to help to achieve a high degree of internalization and steady improvement. Standards and rules can only be anchored sustainably by way of emotional labilization, which is a basic requirement for developing competence. Audits can increase the company value. This requires the company’s readiness to learn and the definition of concrete expectations and rules of the game.

In principle, this applies to management system audits, such as those for ISO 9001 (quality management), ISO 14001 or ISO 50001 (environmental or energy management), OHSAS 18001 (occupational health and safety management) just as much as to sector specific Standards, such as ISO 22000, IFS (International Food Standard) or BRC (British Retail Consortium). ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 may offer more room for manœvre than the food specific standards and regulations, at which many criteria simply need to be fulfilled in order to guarantee a high degree of food safety. Yet at the end of the day, it is a matter of having satisfied and loyal customers, managing the processes as effectively and efficiently as to enable this and ensuring that the number and scope of possible complaints, environmental emissions and occupational accidents approach zero. Requirements must have become second nature to people to such an extent that they are a matter of course. Thus quality and environmental awareness will become noticeable every day and coin corporate culture.


Basic requirements for audits as a lever for design

There are fundamental prerequisites for audits as an effective lever for design. Many of these prerequisites can also be found in the requirements placed on auditors by ISO 19011:

  • excellent knowledge of standards, regulations and models
  • adequate knowledge of the sector, technology and law
  • audit processes, audit techniques, audit methods
  • interviewing techniques, communication strategies
  • assessment and evaluation behaviour
  • appropriate documentation and reporting structures
  • energy relating to potentials and improvement measures
  • audit culture and audit policy


States of tension and cognitive dissonances

In the Manual about Competence Measurement, John Erpenbeck and Lutz von Rosenstiel draw the following conclusion: “Competence cannot be developed without emotional labilization! The process of internalization is the centre of any acquirement of values and thus development of competence. Hence this also applies to internal and external auditors.”

At the audit, company specific and personal values, such convictions as “I like being at the audit”, feelings, perceptions and working and relational styles encounter information, requirements, evidence of action taken, decisions in the form of major and minor CAR’s (corrective action requests) or, in the ISO World, hints. States of tension and cognitive dissonances are possible or, more so, even very probable. However, cognition is a skill promoting learning and problem solving. Cognitive learning also stands for learning enabled by insight. Insight, for its part, requires six elements:

  1. openness
  2. admitting mistakes
  3. readiness to act
  4. promoting confidence
  5. courage
  6. culture

In this context, however, insight does not only mean that a state of affairs is recognized and understood but also has to do with a clear view and, above all, indulgence.


When will audits become a learning platform?

If the company specific audit strategy is based on top secrecy, long-winded explanations or internal or external disturbance, audits won’t become a learning platform. This will also be the case if the audit objectives are exclusively focused on maintaining conformity while the expenditure is to be kept as low as possible, management should largely be left alone and the audit findings are not communicated when post-processing the Audit.

Audits will become a lever for design if there is a respectful togetherness and the persons concerned are freed from possible fears. One central question will also be the following: What audit objectives have been defined so that the questions can be formulated at the audit in a well-aimed manner? Have possibly special audit objectives been established? These are important prerequisites for sharing and deploying knowledge obtained on the basis of lessons learned in the further step. This means that the readiness to share knowledge needs to be supplemented by internal communication about audit performance or the audit result as an additional success criterion. If “investigative” audits are planned, they should also be communicated openly and frankly.

Audits will become a lever for design if cognitive learning is practised while promoting self-controlled learning (Arnold/Gomez Tutor 2007) and allowing action focused learning (Geldermann 2005). Intergenerational learning is advantageous when it comes to sharing the treasure trove of experience and integrating new approaches. At the end, praise and recognition should be granted to all persons involved.


Identifying, analyzing and seizing opportunities at audits

Positive conditions for enabling a learning platform might be created by assuring the further development of internal auditor competence and establishing an audit culture from the perspective of audit strategy. Interdisciplinary and cross-departmental internal audits might enhance mutual understanding. From the perspective of audit objectives, acknowledgement of conformity quite obviously is a central aspect. If, however, the company specific audit objective says that we want to learn from the audits, identify deltas, derive improvements and identify potentials and opportunities, audits will become a learning and knowledge platform and ultimately a lever for design. This equally applies to internal and external audits.


qualityaustria’s audit philosophy

The degree of fulfilment is evaluated with aplomb and objectively in order to guarantee conformity to standards or regulations. Right from the beginning qualityaustria’s audit design has been focused on creating value. In this respect, the audit procedure and audit documentation follow qualityaustria’s logic of success. As an ambassador of value, Quality Austria demonstrates the mode of action of quality management systems and integrated management systems. In this context, it should be noted that the individual system disciplines must not exclusively be viewed in their single form but always in their interrelations with other systems or processes. While the audit service is being provided, direct orientation on practice will always be perceivable and can thus immediately be integrated in the daily processes profitably by organizations.

Still another particular strength is that the provision of audit services makes it possible to establish special audit objectives together with the customer and take them into account in the course of the audits. The fact that the audit history is viewed permanently also helps to guarantee the organization’s steady further development. Statements about performance of the management system are discussed and show important development steps. A well-aimed further development of the organization, where the single disciplines do not impede one another, is particularly enabled by having an integrated look at the individual systems.

Moreover, it becomes possible to collect strategic statements made by the organization, feed in risk assessments or integrate adequate self-assessments. This can be used to make it possible to lay down the strong and weak points as well as the opportunities and risks from the organization’s perspective during the audit. A particular focus is on monitoring processes. For this is one of the central requirements of ISO 9001 as well as an important basis for other management standards.


From the philosophy to practical assessment

For two years, 400 qualityaustria customers have been interviewed on the phone by Karmasin Market Research. In this respect, two objectives are pursued. On the one hand, customer satisfaction is measured. On the other hand, the auditors’ competence is assessed. For the first semester of 2014, 90 % of the interviewees said that opportunities for improvement relating to processes, structures or products could be shown by the audit. “The audit has supported us in implementing corporate strategy and objectives.” This is stated by 86 %. Audits also enhance understanding of the need for change. This is confirmed by 76 % of qualityaustria’s customers. The audit reports, which serve to document the results, are regarded as creating particular value. 93 % of the customers think that the audit reports are helpful to them, expressive and understandable.



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