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The last couple of months have seen a remarkable amount of change across many sectors and communities.  Some of these changes have been devastating, with the loss of jobs and business closure, while other changes have seen people work out ways to outlast the closures and downturn in the economy.  In amongst this, many organisations have continued to prepare themselves for their next audit.  When I have contacted people the week before I am due to conduct an audit, in some cases, the pressure has been tangible: pressure to address the organisation’s continued viability in uncertain times; pressure related to reassuring staff about ongoing work during the COVID-19 situation; pressure to meet the ongoing support needs of clients. There’s constant pressure.  When I call and check-in to see how they are going in their preparations for what is ahead – well, it seems like I am adding more pressure on an already overstretched environment.

Dealing with intense pressure at a time you are heading into an audit can feel like a lot of things are on the line. From what I have seen and heard with services in recent times, it can be a tough decision to continue with the audit at a time when so much internal pressure is happening within the organisation.  None of this is easy, I know. I recall a time where my organisation was coming up for its recertification audit and the pressure I was managing at the time.  The stress related to managing some very intense situations where abuse and neglect of two very vulnerable people had occurred and been reported to me as the CEO a month before the audit was due to start.  In both cases, the abuse was actively endorsed by their primary caregiver – the person who supposedly loved them.  The investigation process rapidly exposed not only the impact on the two individuals being abused but also the fallout for their support staff.  I could not understand how anyone could do the sorts of things that were being done to these two vulnerable people and then continue to think their actions were acceptable.  In both cases, that was what was happening.  Naivety and ignorance were at play, but still, it was devastating to watch how both people had been affected.

About a fortnight before the audit was due to commence; I decided to contact the certification body.  Why would I do that, you might ask?  Simply put, I wanted to alert the auditor of the fact that I would be needed for further investigative processes on the day of the audit itself. I wasn’t worried about the evidence we had about these two critical incidents or the processes that had been implemented as soon as I had found out about these events. Far from it.  The relevant external authorities were involved, and by the day of the audit, there was a lot happening to address the needs of the two individuals.  Thank goodness for that!   

The auditor was brilliant on the day, and we had some beneficial discussions about my organisation’s approach to managing both strategic risks as well as the risks involving the people we were supporting.  The auditor expressed appreciation for being advised beforehand of the issues my organisation was addressing at the time. It gave her time to think about her approach for the day and what other resources may have been of use to me at the time. Yes, the audit was about compliance, but it was reassuring to have an auditor work with us on the day in a way that demonstrated she also understood the human toll of the work we were doing.  

Thinking about the rapid transition we have had to make with the increased use of technology over the past couple of months, it is entirely reasonable for services to talk with their certification body about their capacity to manage their audit with the use of technology.  The reality is that not everyone is comfortable using different forms of technology, and some services don’t have the types of technology in place to manage an audit at the moment smoothly.  It is essential to talk about that.

The reality is that audits are already a stressful event for staff and other people involved in the service’s operations so having an additional stressor related to the use of technology should be talked about and negotiated with the certification body as well as the auditors before they start the audit.  The auditors need to know what you have in place and how technology can be used to facilitate the process in a stress-free manner as possible.  Using technology in this way is indeed different and perhaps a bit awkward to start with.  But from what I have recently observed, once they overcame the pressure of learning something new, staff have generally enjoyed the process.

Sometimes the pressure is what it takes to motivate us to make the changes we need to make.  In my case, the pressure initially involved working with authorities to make sure those two people would not experience family abuse again. It eventually, presented me with the changes I needed to make to move away from managing the organisation I had commenced twenty years ago.  Now organisations are having to review some of their practices and to make changes in ways none of us could have imagined when 2020 started.  It is going to be interesting to see where the changes eventually settle and to observe what the sector, as well as auditing practices, will look like in the months ahead.  I don’t know that any amount of 20-20 vision is going to help with that!

Thinking ahead:
1. In what ways are your practices the same – or different – in managing pressure during COVID-19, compared to managing it at other times? What learnings do you expect to be taking away from COVID-19 once it has settled down? 

2. If you are also managing the pressure of addressing audit requirements in amongst managing the impact of COVID-19 on your organisation, what have you learned about your skills from this time?

3. Have you thought of contacting your certification body to discuss your organisation’s technological capacity before your audit?  What was the response?

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