Ensuring your organisation achieves and maintains accreditation with government regulations and industry standards can be a very time-consuming and stressful exercise.
Get it right and accreditation can open doors to new revenue opportunities and growth. Get it wrong and the impact on your organisation’s reputation and bottom-line can be significant; even catastrophic.
In this article, I outline four steps you can take to improve your organisation’s chances of passing an accreditation assessment, and in so doing, help avoid accreditation stress.
Step 1: Be more proactive and less reactive
Heading into an external accreditation assessment not knowing whether your organisation will pass or fail can be highly stressful. As is learning your organisation has failed the assessment because the assessor has identified serious compliance issues.
The best way to avoid these types of accreditation stress is to adopt a more proactive approach to identifying and addressing non-compliances before they can be picked up in external accreditation assessment.
Start with a comprehensive self-assessment on your organisation’s systems and processes then fixing any identified gaps before applying for initial stage-one accreditation. But don’t stop here. Having achieved accreditation your organisation will more than likely have to pass regular stage-two assessments to maintain it.
Stage-two accreditation assessments differ from stage-one assessments insofar as they focus less on identifying system and processes gaps and more on assessing an organisation’s compliance performance.
Once again, the best way to prepare for stage-two assessments is by conducting your own regular assessments and making sure any compliance performance issues are quickly brought to management’s attention and corrected.
While regular compliance self-assessments have the potential to substantially reduce accreditation stress their effectiveness can be severely compromised due to internal biases and assessor subjectivity. Which brings me to step 2.
Step 2: Reference compliance evidence
It is one thing to believe your organisation complies with regulations and standards because that is what your self-assessments are telling you. It is quite another thing to prove it is compliant to an external accreditation assessors. To do this you need to produce supporting compliance evidence.
Compliance evidence for a stage-one accreditation assessment will normally include documentation detailing how your organisation intends to comply with the mandatory requirements outlined in the respective regulation or standard e.g. policies, process diagrams, work instructions, etc.
Compliance evidence for a stage-two re-accreditation assessment will normally include a combination of records and reports that demonstrate your organisation’s systems and processes are operating as intended e.g. process inspection results, audit results, management reports, surveys results, etc.
Being able to quickly produce supporting compliance evidence will significantly improve your organisation’s chances of passing an external compliance assessment. But what if your compliance evidence identified non-compliances? This where Step 3 comes into play.
Step 3: Demonstrate your commitment to continuous improvement
When assessing an organisation for stage-one accreditation there is normally no tolerance for non-compliances. Either an organisation’s systems and processes cover all the mandatory requirements outlined in the respective regulation or standard, and it is awarded accreditation, or they don’t, and it is not. This is not the case for stage-two accreditation assessments.
Accreditation assessors realise that every organisation produces some level of non-compliance; especially those that rely on employees and third-parties doing the right thing.
Accordingly, the decision to award stage-two re-accreditation is not solely based on whether an organisation is producing non-compliances, but on the type and number of non-compliances it produces, and its ability to identify them and make sure they do not recur in the future.
One way you can demonstrate your organisation’s continuous improvement credentials to an assessor is to record details of the actions taken to address the causes of non-compliances identified by your regular self-assessments.
You can also demonstrate how your regular self-assessment have been used to assess the effectiveness of past corrective actions, and to monitor their progress through to resolution.
Undertaking regular compliance self-assessments, recording compliance evidence, and demonstrating your organisation’s continuous credentials, are all very effective at reducing accreditation stress, but they can be very time-consuming and stressful in their own right. Which brings me to Step 4.
Step 4: Utilise appropriate compliance technology
Successfully managing your organisation’s accreditation portfolio can be a very stressful exercise in its own right. This is where appropriate compliance management technology can be of benefit.
Here are my suggestions on what to look out for when selecting an appropriate compliance management solution for your organisation.
- First make sure it is easy-to-use. You do not want something that looks good but no-one likes to use because it too complex and hard to use. Make sure you can trial before you buy.
- To avoid wasted time and money configuring the software, pick a solution that includes preconfigured checklists for each of the regulations and standards relevant to your organisation or industry.
- Make sure the software allows you to directly save, open and view compliance evidence when conducting self-assessments.
- Make sure the software enables you to record and monitor the actions your organisation has taken, or is planning to undertake, to correct identified non-compliances.
- Ensure assessment reports and compliance evidence details can be easily shared with internal and external stakeholders.
- Lastly, make sure your selected technology solution enables you to monitor, benchmark and share compliance assessment reports with board-members, senior management, employees and accreditation assessors.
In my experience, implementing these four proactive compliance management steps will significantly improve your organisation’s ability to achieve and maintain its accreditation, and most importantly help you avoid accreditation stress. Which has to be a good thing; right?