Within any audit or assessment process, I am frequently confronted with a few different perceptions, not only from staff and Board members but also from clients, and as well as from my team. In return, they are also confronted by my perceptions, particularly when I am looking at an organisation and what it does. There are times when my perceptions are strongly aligned with those of the organisation and its stakeholders – and there are times when we are nowhere near one another when we are looking at the standards and what these mean for the organisation!

From what I know about perception, it’s a whole lot more than just acquiring information – it involves interpreting, analysing and organising what is presented (whether in written, intellectual or physical form) as a way of making sense of what the information means. As an auditor and an assessor, this often involves a very rapid interpretation of the environment as well as of documented and stated information. In this capacity, I am using many perceptions to make an assessment. A judgement if you like. On what I’m seeing, sensing and hearing, and then striving to see consistency or contrasts in the ways the organisation works, both individually in documents and for people as well as within a larger strategic and operational setting.

When I am onsite with an organisation, there are usually many opportunities to discuss different perceptions with clients and stakeholders. Sometimes people have a very negative impression about audits and assessments and I find discussions about perceptions can help people to view the purpose of these processes in a different and hopefully more positive and optimistic way. Of course, this is not always successful – but I do try! It can feel quite frustrating to be confronted with the one person who just can’t get beyond their perception of audits as a burden and an impost to the organisation, not as something that can be really worthwhile. Or other situations where staff express disdain for the auditor not picking up issues at the previous audit and now the organisation has to address further improvements. Sometimes these perceptions are deeply entrenched and there is no easy way of helping people to see any alternatives, particularly if there is a considerable investment in maintaining a negative belief about these processes.

However, what I love about this work is the ability to work with people to potentially see different and new perspectives with what they are trying to achieve, and to see how people have integrated different ways of thinking into significant improvements for their organisation over time. Sometimes I can offer an alternative point of view about an issue that the organisation or its stakeholders can’t see or don’t appreciate about what they do. When I am checking in before visiting the site, it is such a buzz to hear people say, ‘We can’t wait for you to come back here, Kathy! We have done so much since the last assessment and we think you will be very pleasantly surprised by what is happening here now. We know we are thrilled by the changes and our clients are too.’ What is different in these situations, compared to people expressing disinterest, disdain and distrust about audits and assessments, is the person’s perception.

I think there are several ways to strengthen the ways we see alternative points of view and other people’s perceptions:

1. Challenge yourself to be open to different ways of thinking about issues – if this sort of approach sounds scary or you are afraid to ‘rock the boat’ in your organisation, find a mentor or coach who can help you learn how to be open to other points of view;

2. Actively consider potentially different ways of doing things, such as try a different way to go to work, drive a different route, eat different foods (the list is endless!) – and make these happen, perhaps as a small trial project to start with and then share the results with as many people as you can;

3. Be open to many different learning opportunities that may not be mainstream or traditionally what has been valued to date;

5. Help the organisation to not only intrinsically value what it does but demonstrate how it innovates and serves its internal as well as external customers in a stronger way.

Personally, I believe the ability to think about and see particular issues in a different way is what sets organisations apart. Staying entrenched in an established and rigid way of operating, ‘we have always done it this way so why should we change?’ is not how innovation or continually evolving ways to address customer requirements actually occurs. Looking forward, not only do we need people who can see alternative perceptions but we also need people to facilitate the conditions, circumstances and events that enable different perceptions to emerge within and across an organisation or a community. When organisations work on the drivers to make these conditions occur and then transparently and actively integrate different perceptions into the deliverables that have meaning for people of all ages, this is where the difference can be really seen. All it takes is the courage to take the first step down a pathway that may not have been travelled before – you will be surprised who else is there and willing to help you along the way!

Thinking ahead:

1. Is there a ‘perception pioneer’ in your organisation? Someone who introduces you and the organisation to new perspectives? If so, what difference does this make?
2. If you don’t currently have any ‘perception pioneers’ on hand, how would this type of person help you to see new perspectives which will enhance the organisation?
3. What challenges do you think your organisation would have to overcome to welcome different perspectives?