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Introducing and implementing a quality management system into any business or organisation, regardless of size, focus or customer base involves considerable investment.  Time, costs to purchase the standards and a system, staffing costs, mindset costs – the list can go on and on.  People tend to see implementing systems and structures to address external mandatory standards, frequently imposed on the business or organisation as a result of funding sources or industry requirements, as a ‘waste of time and money’, a ‘necessary evil’ – or something to savour.  What – savour? Yes, for some people, going through the accreditation process can be an inspiring and welcome opportunity to have their practices and systems externally reviewed and found to be complying – or exceeding – with what the standards require.  Other people, naturally enough, see this as a task that is done on the side of what the core business is about.  And the results are often evident within the audit process itself.  For example, the auditor can find the organisation hasn’t kept abreast of what the standards for their industry or sector are saying.  Some people don’t look at the standards from one audit to the next.  Auditors often find the organisation doesn’t follow its own procedures – or has purchased a ready-made compliance manual without having read it.

Asking questions of the CEO or business owner can be insightful in seeing how the leader/s of the organisation actually view the accreditation process.  Some people will invest in time and effort to find out how their organisation is sitting before their next audit.  Some people invest in an independent opinion, and of course, others do not.  And the results are often telling.

Could a different experience be obtained for people who don’t see the point of preparing for their next audit?  Is there some way to minimise the pain that they may well experience if they stride into the audit without any real preparation?  The answer to this is a resounding ‘yes’ – if you have the courage to find out how the business or organisation is actually going.  No hiding, no fancy footsteps around issues, no masking the truth of how things are.

One way of facing the audit is to conduct a gap analysis.  This involves a full review of your business or organisation’s documents, strategic and operational management systems, registers, feedback mechanisms, staff management practices, and, of course, finding out how the customer experiences your business.  A robust and insightful gap analysis can provide the insights needed by the organisation to know where it’s positioned, its currency and ability to demonstrate compliance and improvements, in amongst the fast-paced pressures that are common for many organisations today.

A deep dive into your business operations through a robust gap analysis can be beneficial on many different fronts, not just as a key information source before your audit.  Other benefits can be found with acquired insights into strategic planning activities, improvements to internal and external customer service delivery practices, and clarity about how the business is positioned in the current economic environment.  A gap analysis tends to be completed within a short timeframe and the results can be injected into strategic and operational areas shortly afterwards.  Nothing is better than identifying areas where real improvement can be made and consideration of how to bring your team along for the improvement journey.

Questions for you to consider:
•    Do you routinely conduct a gap analysis for your business or organisation?  If so, what benefits have you seen over time as a result of the acquired insights?
•    If you have conducted a gap analysis as a preliminary requirement before your first audit but not after that time, what have been the results in subsequent audits?  Have these been positive or have you been left with many non-conformities to address that you may not have been expecting?
•    If you have never considered conducting a gap analysis before, what benefits do you think you would see if you had more insights into how the business or organisation is truly operating?
•    What would be the detriments to your business if you never undertook a gap analysis from time to time?

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