Take Care of the Corners (Original Publication Date 10/01/2017)

I find spending time with family over the Christmas and New Year period helps to remind you how precious your time together is and the things you can learn from each other.

Growing up I had the privilege of being able to get to know my great grandmother. Nanna Etchell was the ultimate stereo- typical great grandmother from her generation. She was always sewing, knitting, cooking, gardening and she always wore a cardigan and an apron over her dress.

The other thing I remember about her was she had little sayings for everything she did, there were so many I have lost count of them all. There is one that always stayed with me though. As a kid it never really made a lot of sense, it was her saying for when she was cleaning the floor –‘if you take care of the corners, the middle takes care of itself’

But you still have to clean the whole floor anyway don’t you?

Looking back on it now and rewording it based on my experience with auditing it has actually become something that I use in practice every day – ‘if you take care of the details, the big picture will take care of itself’

Too many of us are so concerned about the big picture, the standards, deeds or contacts we have to be compliant to, that the details can begin to get lost. What we forget is if those details are lost then the big picture starts to get a bit fuzzy.

Countless times I have seen organisations in a panic over a pending external audit, pouring over every little detail of the standard, wanting to make sure they are ‘audit ready’ and feel confident they are compliant so there will be no surprises at the end. I have seen them spend a lot of time and money having someone conduct a ‘pre-audit’ to those exact standards and look at me like I have completely lost the plot when I suggest it is pointless!

I think I may have heard a majority of my current audience also gasp in shock at that statement! Let me explain it a little.

Say for example you are an ISO certified organisation who is about to undergo a re-certification audit. You have an external auditor coming in who is being paid to audit to that particular ISO standard. This auditor has most likely conducted the same audit many times, they know what they are looking for and what evidence they are expecting to see.

Is it the best use of your internal auditor’s time to recreate the exact same audit that someone else is being paid to do?

‘But we need to pass the audit’ I hear you say. Yes, passing an audit is always a good thing, but this one particular external audit is part of your big picture. If you focus solely on that one standard then your internal audits are not going to provide you with the information you need to make strategic decisions on growth opportunities for your organisation or give you a true indication on what is happening day to day.

‘So what should we do?’ This is where the details are the key!

Yes your internal auditor should have an understanding of the standards you operate under and the compliance requirements of these, but that shouldn’t be the sole focus of their role. Providing it has been confirmed that your internal documents are written with these compliance requirements as a base and reference the specific standards, and the internal documents are being used correctly, then this should take care of the big picture issue and ensure that you are audit ready at all times.

Once it has been determined that your internal documents are compliant to the standards this allows your internal auditor to get on with the role they are actually there for, making sure you have the valuable information you need to ensure your organisation is performing at its best.

Are your employees following the documented work instructions correctly?

Are internal controls in place and being followed?

Are you looking for opportunities to improve procedures or are you still doing things the same way because that is how you have always done it?

By getting your internal audit program to work for you rather than be a carbon copy of the external auditors you can be confident that your business will be in a stronger position to pass an external audit as the potential threats can be identified long before the external auditors arrive. This way, rather than be in a panic and have all hands on deck trying to get ready for your external audit, and possibly putting staff from multiple areas behind in their own workloads, you can continue on with business as usual!

Please note: The above article is not intended for use as standalone audit advice. For an individual review of the audit and compliance requirements for your business please contact KLM Audit & Compliance (info@klm-audit.com)

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