Walking home a different way with my dog this morning presented me with an alternative view of my yard.  One I hadn’t seen for a while, in fact, as I rarely walk that way.  What I saw this morning was a tree that looked to be dead – and I am sure it wasn’t that way when I last walked past it.  But dead it looked and dead it most certainly is, now that I have had a good look at it from inside the yard.  This tree is hidden behind a very large shed on my property and surrounded by many different shrubs and bushes that have become quite overgrown.  Clearly, I have some work ahead to remove the tree and declutter the area to improve the standard of my yard…

As I continued my walk, I thought about how busy life is and how things like dying trees can creep on us and suddenly appear in a new light i.e. dead, when it didn’t seem so long ago that things were flourishing.  It can feel like being caught out suddenly and having our preconceived ideas exposed, perhaps in an uncomfortable and unplanned way.  A bit like situations where I find something in an organisation’s system that indicates some lack of attention on changes that have occurred with legislation or with the standards themselves.  In some cases, it is like taking our eyes off the ball and not concentrating on what we need to be.

Sometimes I see this in my auditing work, with services being surprised with the requirement for improvement actions or observations as a result of not keeping an eye on the latest version of the Human Service Quality Standards (HSQS) or other standards that are relevant to them.  Sometimes people tell me they don’t take that much notice of the next version of the standards, thinking that they are all much the same anyway.  Or they didn’t realise that the changes applied to their organisation.  It is at times like this that a different reality can become apparent: improvements that are needed, perhaps both in documented as well as implemented procedures as well as the work that is needed to bring staff up to speed with current expectations.  Sometimes I witness the flurry associated with introducing these changes before I have finished an audit; at other times, I hear about it afterwards as timeframes to address the identified actions need to be met.  

Sometimes people think I am being ‘picky’ and ignoring their internal reality.  At other times, people are grateful for having the nuances pointed out to them.  However, the standards and indicators are what they are: set in place by other entities that are not necessarily very interested in what I, as the auditor, or what the organisation may have to say about the content or focus we are presented within an audit.  

What I do know to be true, however, is that standards like those in the HSQS provide a solid framework for good practice at both organisational as well as service delivery levels.  Perhaps it is more a case of how to work with the standards and make them your friend, instead of arguing about or resisting what these have to say.  

Some ways of doing this could include:
•    Identifying someone in your organisation to regularly monitor the Department’s website for updates to the HSQS User Guide.  Perhaps this could be scheduled as a calendar item for that staff member.
•    Including time in team meetings throughout the year to do an update on a standard during a meeting.
•    Including the review of a set of procedures relevant to the work area in team meetings and encouraging individual staff to analyse what the procedures mean and whether they are current to staff practices at the time.
•    Brainstorm how else the indicators could be interpreted.  Really read the indicators as well to make sure the nuances included in the statements are addressed in practice.  For example, having a general Complaints Policy may not be sufficient to evidence the focus and intent of each of the indicators.
•    Talk with trusted colleagues about their interpretations of the indicators and how to demonstrate best practice in these areas.  
•    Identify and work with auditors who can see what you are trying to achieve, and who can add value into your work as well.

The fact is that we all need to be aspiring towards best practice, not simply being satisfied with baseline or minimum achievements.  Yes, it takes time to do this, but it is often far more effective to regularly and deeply examine what the indicators mean and how these can be demonstrated than to simply leave it for the audit itself and hope for the best – or hope the auditor won’t find anything!  

Thinking ahead:

1.    What strategies do you have in place to deeply examine the intent of the standards and indicators applicable to your business or organisation?  How does your organisation make the standards its friend, instead of its enemy?
2.    What actions does your organisation take to involve its staff and stakeholders in identifying potentially different views for procedures, instead of those that may have been in place for some time?  If so, what does this look like?