With more than 25 years of audit experience, director of successful auditing and training business Global Quality Assurance, David Purslow has seen it all. In a no-holds-barred interview with The Auditor, Purslow gives insight into some key issues facing auditors and offers a simple solution for improvement.
Purslow enjoys the diversity of auditing and the process of assisting businesses improve. However, not everyone shares the same experience of auditing. In this fast-paced environment, auditors can face pressures from many sources, including auditees who want the job complete within tight deadlines or certification bodies pushing auditors to take on more than they can handle. According to Purslow, challenges such as these can easily pile up, leaving the auditor with a backlog of work or pushed to the point of burnout—particularly for contract auditors.
“In Australia, we work with a lot of contract-based auditors,” Purslow says. “This can breed the type of auditor who has a money focus, so they will take on every job that is available to them. That is where the issue of burnout can arise. They are trying to grow their business, but at what cost?
“All of a sudden we see people getting burnt out because they are doing too much.
“There are also a lot of young auditors who think they are invincible. They try to get as many audit scopes as they can and try to do as much as they can. You may have auditors who are quite happy working at a certain level within a certain scope. There is nothing wrong with that. There is always going to be a variance of auditor skills and knowledge across the industry.
“As an auditor you sometimes need to step back and have a good look at yourself and say there is only so much you can do, and be comfortable with what you do well.
“You need to manage yourself as an auditor, and as a business you need to manage your auditors to prevent those things from happening.”
Purslow postulates the current financial climate and varying audit standards to be an underlying cause of this pressure. When organizations tighten their budgets, the hunt is on to find the lowest-priced audit. As we all know, the cheapest price doesn’t always guarantee the best product or service, which raises the concern of ineffective auditing.
“If you start looking at the quality of the jobs being done, there is a big divide between the quality of the job and the actual meaningfulness of the reports that are generated,” Purslow says. “We don’t want an industry full of ‘tick and flick’ audits; we want people who write meaningful outcomes in their reports. We don’t want auditors to be subjective and negative in their approach to auditing where they forget to look at the process or become document focused. These aren’t good attributes of an auditor.
“For an auditor to do the job properly, he or she needs the time to actually do the job to the scope that has been issued. Sometimes that doesn’t happen because you have organizations that are so keen to keep clients, they cut the cost. Therefore, the expectation on the auditor to complete this body of work is increased.”
The notion of auditor competence is intertwined with these issues, which Purslow believes isn’t always the fault of the auditor.
“We talk a lot about auditor competence; the industry has been commenting on it,” he explains. “It always seems to be the auditors who are targeted for the inconsistency of auditing. But when we drill down to the root causes, you have to look at organizational cultures—the people who are running the scheme, the business, or the certification body and the auditors themselves.
“In particular, [you need to look at] issues like audit duration, number of standards being audited, expectations, audit cost, auditee, audit tools, audit team (if available), and location. All elements should be addressed by good audit planning.
“It’s about having the time and resources to put in to developing staff.”
Purslow offers the following tips to improve the standard of auditing:
- Allow enough time. The extent to which a service will be provided when promised and how long it takes to consistently perform the service each and every time. You need to be able to complete the project or audit assignment in the time you have been given. If you don’t feel the timeframe is adequate, you need to be upfront and say it’s not going to meet the scope and objective of the audit. If you have a very heavy audit schedule, you need to make time to produce your reports and deliver your outcomes on time, in full.
- Consistency. The extent to which audits are delivered in the same fashion for every client, every standard every time, relevant to the scope. You can’t have a bad day.
- Honesty and integrity. The belief that things that are worth doing are worth doing well is a strong value that we should all aim to project. Integrity of the process and trust underpin the core philosophy of auditing. We choose this career path!
- Accuracy. The extent to which the audit is performed right the first time and fully compliant to the standard we audit. Good audit planning should ensure that competency is held prior to audit delivery and enough time to complete the audit fully.
- Competence. The relevant skills, knowledge, and expertise of auditors to complete the audits to the correct standard required. Auditing is a profession; it requires dedication, commitment, and the ability to keep learning and improving your skills and knowledge. Make time to do this!
So what is the solution to all of these challenges? Purslow suggests going back to the fundamentals.
“We need more consistency so we can get some traction and growth in the industry,” he says. “We need to go back to the fundamentals about why auditing is important and why process-based auditing is effective.
“We don’t want auditors to be checklist auditors. Ending up with 60 percent of an audit based on documentation doesn’t add value. We want auditors to be in processes, watching processes, understanding processes, and determining if they are meeting requirements.
“We choose to work in this sector, we choose to be auditors—we should all look at improving our industry, including standard owners, regulators, influencers, CABs, auditors, and clients alike. We should not accept substandard practices and planning, but agree on meaningful, achievable outcomes. To this end we all have a part to play, so let’s begin.
“Please do not perceive my passion for our industry with arrogance, as this was never the intent!”