The 3 steps to acing your next audit

Fear of danger or misfortune.   That’s the difference between being nervous and being anxious.   Which do you feel before an audit?

How you feel before the big audit

When auditors are soon coming to your place of work, most people are anxious.  They are not only worried, but they are worried that the findings that may come from the audit will bring “misfortune” to the company.   Misfortune, in this case, can mean being written up, warnings, fines, recalls, or entire plant shutdowns.   But you already know what possible misfortune awaits you if you screw this audit up, don’t you?   It’s been keeping you up at night.

On the other hand, if you are just nervous about the audit, you are simply uneasy or apprehensive.   This feeling isn’t because you believe there is the potential of possible doom that could crash around the business, but instead because audits are important and they aren’t an everyday occurrence.   It’s like how the valedictorian of your college felt before finals:  they were nervous that it was finals, but they knew they were going to pass with flying colors.   You remember how that felt, right?  Yeah – me either.

But when it comes to your business, you CAN be like the 4.0 student.   You don’t have to stay up cramming the night before and praying that you have your “A” game on the big day.   Like the excellent student, or world champion sports team, it’s all about preparation.

It doesn’t matter what your business creates or sells, passing regulatory or any other audits are all about following your own playbook.   They are looking for 3 things.   1) Do you know what you are supposed to be doing?   2) Do you do it?  3)  Can you prove that you are doing what you are supposed to?

Let’s take each of these and quickly break them down so you can master them.

  • Do you know what you are supposed to be doing?

Auditors are people from outside of your business.  They don’t know your company like you do.  So how can they, as outsiders, come in and decide if you know what you are supposed to be doing?    Easy – because they ask.   They ask a lot.  And they ask a lot of people.    They ask for maps, blueprints, operating procedures, opinions, scenarios, etc.   And the more variation they hear and see, the more they realize that your staff isn’t all on the same page.

This is an instant red flag.  

For example, imagine that the Fire Marshal comes in and asks 3 people who work in the same area where they go in case of a fire.  If all 3 people point in different directions, what message does this send to the Fire Marshal?   They all might be accurate, in that they can all indicate a door, but it will be clear that they are all not on the same page.

Fixing this is easy.  Create a playbook.  A playbook can be a set of well written procedures or process maps which show all employees the steps necessary to do their job in most situations.    When all employees refer to the same document to answer the question, “how do you know what you are supposed to be doing”, it’s a big A+ from auditors.

  • Do you do it?


Saying what you are supposed to do and referring to the proper document is one thing, but actually doing it is another.


Once an auditor sees that your employees understand what they should be doing and how to do it, their next step is to verify that it’s really happening.    “Seeing is believing” is the point here.   Auditors aren’t there to take your word that everything is great.  They need to see it as well.


They will be comparing what they learned in step 1, and personally validating it.   If your staff is doing something different than what your playbook says, well, let’s just say you might have reason to be anxious.   Not only that, but you probably aren’t running a very efficient business either.


Fixing this is a leadership issue.  


Once you have the playbook made, it’s just a matter of holding staff accountable to the things that are supposed to be supporting your business.   If your staff isn’t regularly following procedure, you either have a poorly designed procedure, or you’ve found an area where staff needs reinforcement.    Either one is an opportunity to engage the staff in a positive way and continue to support the playbook.


  • Can you prove it?

You’ve told the auditors.  Then you’ve showed them.   Now you just need to wrap it up with a bow.

If you have systems in place to capture data that can show the auditors the milestone steps and results of your processes listed out in #1 and #2, then you are earning your A+.    Your data can be electronic or manually calculated, but it has to be reliable and accurate.  Data loses value, and is much less impressive, if you don’t have the first two steps done correctly.

Wrapping it up 

The all-A student knows how to study (step 1), studies and does the work according to plan with little variation (step 2), and then proves the results through testing (step 3).  Mastering all 3 steps in your business will take all of the anxiousness out of any audit you have.    You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have a little nervousness.

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