Admit it, when you hear process consistency, you think “audit,” and at the word “audit,” you cringe.  You may even think to yourself, “please don’t choose me.”  The word evokes trepidation – someone is going to scrutinize your work, validate your reporting or question your decisions and processes.

Typically, when one thinks of audits, financial auditing comes to mind – third parties or the IRS validating financial reports and submissions.  However, there are many types and forms of auditing.  Process audits, in particular, can be a helpful tool that can drive consistency and best practice sharing, particularly when operating across multiple locations. The key to making a process audit successful and meaningful is to reframe the goal and the approach. 

Provide clear expectations. To drive consistency, at the foundation are clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This may include job descriptions, role summaries, responsibilities matrices and standard operating procedures.  Plain and simple, associates need to know what is expected of them, particularly on standardized tasks. 

Build trust through training. Whether new to a role, the company, or introducing a new process or technology solution, provide training that will educate associates and put them in a position to succeed.  Provide the required knowledge and skills and then practice those skills to create comfort and confidence.  After all, it isn’t fair and can even be damaging to assess an associate on a skill or process that has never been taught.

Clearly state the goal and explain the “why.” The true purpose of a process audit is to provide an objective evaluation which increases the value and credibility of the work and output.  It is not to “catch” someone doing something incorrectly and invoke punitive measures.  Rather, the focus should be quite the opposite. The goal is to drive uniformity, reduce risk, identify opportunities and share best practices among the entire team. Openly share that the process will provide exposure to new recommendations, frustrating challenges that can be collectively resolved (typically, if one person has a challenge, someone else probably has that same challenge) and provide an outlet for the associate to showcase what they do really well. 

Include the right people.  As leaders, we often have a high level understanding of team roles. Participating in a process review, as a leader, provides an opportunity to more intimately understand what your team does on a daily basis and allows them an opportunity to brag about and demonstrate the value they provide. To make the sessions truly effective, include process subject matter experts who can complete the true assessment and identify inconsistencies and trends, while you, as the leader, focus on understanding, learning from and supporting your team member.

Follow up and celebrate.  As opportunities for improvement or best practices are identified, shout them from the rooftop and take action to resolve and implement on a wide-scale basis. Celebrate new ideas, innovative thoughts and individual contributions that drive consistency and efficiency. Share the concepts, and reward the associates for embracing the opportunity.  By being transparent and acknowledging outcomes, fears are dissipated and more importantly, learning and innovation are encouraged.

While human nature compels us to stand out and make our mark, in business we need to find that balance between encouraging this uniqueness, which may equate to innovation, with driving consistency.  While reviewing processes, we need to emphasize the importance of standardization to be efficient, create a positive client experience and/or output a dependable, quality product.  We can do this, however, while allowing our team to proudly demonstrate the unique value they provide. By reframing the approach, supporting and participating in an open assessment process and celebrating opportunities vs. punishing inconsistencies, leaders are able to change something that can be perceived as a negative into a positive experience and outcome.