The very prospect of an “audit” is intimidating and, quite frankly, has a negative connotation. But, why does this fear exist? Well, it can seem mysterious as to what your auditor may or may not be looking for. They arrive unexpectedly, and there is typically a silent interaction while you nervously watch them check around and write things down. It can even give the impression as though your auditor is just waiting for you and your team to make an error for them to report on. Understandably, with so much mystery behind the whole process, employees may hypothesize inaccuracies as to how the audit works. In result, if an employee is trying to “pass” an audit, this can lead to out of the ordinary behavior, such as throwing out food when an auditor arrives if an employee thinks it does not meet standards or other behavior that is not only harmful to your business, but also makes the audit ineffective.

In an effort to make audits more beneficial and less panic inducing, below are a few tips to take the fear out of the auditing process.

Explain the “Why” of Auditing Protocol

The biggest factor of fear in auditing is that many auditors are silent. They may not explain what they are looking for or why something does or does not meet their expectations. Having open communication with your auditor takes the mystery out of auditing. Your auditor should be able to explain the “why” behind your company standards. At the location level of your quick-serve business, employees may not understand why certain sanitation, food safety or customer service standards are in place. Additionally, they may be unaware of the serious repercussions of what can happen when these standards are not upheld, such as foodborne illness, contaminated food prep surfaces, the cost to your business of losing customers who have had unsatisfactory experiences, and more. To reduce fear, audits should be a conversation that explains standards, provides constructive feedback, and acknowledges not only room for improvement, but also areas that your employees are excelling. By doing this, the audit experience is still objective but also informative and encourages important behavior change at the restaurant.

Have Your Auditor Be an Ally for Your Brand

To eliminate the apprehension from your audits, auditors can help you source the root-cause of issue in order to provide an accurate and useful snapshot for areas of improvement for your business as a whole. This allows the audit to serve more as an assessment, versus a “gotcha” experience, which makes it more productive for your staff involved. It is an assessment of how your location is performing, both the good and the bad. When your auditor is a brand ally, it becomes a consultative approach, designed to provide a positive, yet objective experience. There is as much benefit to applauding the good and the improved, allowing employees to walk with specialists during the assessment to ask questions and learn, as there is to documenting areas for change. Regardless of your industry, business teams perform best when there is a positive-to-negative comment ratio of roughly 6-to-1. Your auditor can implement these tools to foster a collaborative relationship with your business and build a better experience for your employees.

Drive Improvement for Long-Term Behavior Change

An objective audit can drive improvement at the location, and in turn behavior change. When a critical food safety issue is found at the location that would expose the brand to a great risk, a corrective action plan should be put in place on how the brand can quickly resolve this issue on the location level. In addition to corrective action, improvement can be driven by analyzing the root-cause of the problem. For instance, if your location has been experiencing a pest issue, the source may be a broken tile near the sink that has accumulated food and dirt buildup that attracts pests, and thus the cause for the pest issue is the tile. By holding locations accountable for a corrective action plan, in this case to fix the tile immediately, it ensures the necessary findings are being corrected, not simply logged and scored. Improvement and employee development can also be enhanced by the frequency of your audits. Too few audits can lead to diminished focus and a relapse of bad habits, but too many audits will cause fatigue among your staff without proper time allotted to address critical issues. The ideal frequency would be four audits per year to drive change, but still encourage employee morale and development.

Overall, the traditional audit is ill-equipped to offer significant ROI to your brand, perpetuates employee fear and does not mitigate risk, therefore making it simply a waste of time and money for your business. Employees fear their score with traditional audits, instead of focusing on what is actually happening at the location and how critical risk to the brand can be lessened. By creating an open channel for communication, viewing your auditor as your ally, and putting protocol into place to drive improvement, fear will be replaced by a productive and educational experience for your whole team.

Doug Sutton is the president of Steritech, leader in food safety and service excellence assessments across a variety of industries, including quick service restaurants, foodservice, retail, convenience stores, etc. Doug is responsible for leveraging industry-leading data to benchmark a client’s performance against peers, correlate assessment scores to voice-of-customer feedback and same-store sales, and provide insights that help clients focus on what matters most to their customers.
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