HR Audits focus on objective evidence

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HR Audits focus on objective evidence
by Sivaan Marie

HR audits focus on objective evidence against the National HR Standards. The purpose of an HR audit is to provide assurance that an organisation meets the HR standards.  This assurance is based on objective evidence against the standards.  However, one needs to be permanently aware of the risks to objective assessment during the audit process. It is possible that these risks begin to threaten or influence the audit even before the audit day, and sometimes even after the audit visit has been completed.

This need for vigilance has shown itself in various different audit experiences, in differing ways, and to differing degrees. Heightened vigilance on the part of the audit team allows for one to identify the threats to an objective presentation (and consequently assessment) of the factual state of affairs within the auditee.  By identifying the threats, one is better prepared to filter out the effects thereof, and ensure that the assessment is not tainted, and the auditors are not unduly influenced.

On a more fundamental level, one is actually better prepared to ensure that the audit can proceed to begin with, as was evidenced in one audit experience, explained below.

It is easy to accept that such threats and risks exist and must be managed, but less obvious (until experienced), that such threats can emanate from any level within the auditee; and from within and without the HR team, and management team.

Some of the factors that may precipitate threats against the objective presentation of the factual state of affairs within the auditee include the following factors:

  • Relationships between audit stakeholders (and other interested parties within the auditee);
  • The true reason(s) for requesting the audit;
  • Competing individual agendas within the auditees;
  • The mood within the auditee at the time of audit;
  • A history or track record of poor HR service delivery;
  • The relationship between the interviewee and the perceived owners of the HR function;
  • The perception of the audit process as an opportune vehicle to air personal grievances or grind personal axes;
  • Other political dynamics or characteristics of the organisation culture.

Do the above risks diminish the business case for HR Auditing? I submit a resounding “Not at all!”  If anything, it further builds the case for the holding of audits and the implementation of improvement plans post-audit. It is precisely because of the inevitable existence of these confounding factors, almost all based upon subjective human experiences and relationships, as well as competing interests within the auditee, that the need for objective external assessment of the HR environment is critically required by any employer wishing to ensure the successful operation thereof.

An independent, external audit of the HR function by competent, experienced, specialist professionals, based upon the National HR Standards framework, and assessed on the objective facts and evidence provided (whilst filtering out the obfuscations of the above, and other, confounding factors), is the only sure way to gain an accurate reading of the present level of functioning against the National HR Standards, so as to found a suitable course of continuous improvement in this area.   While HR departments will never be perfect, the HR standards and audits are positioned to improve the status quo by infusing a quality mind-set and commitment to improving HR practice. It goes without saying, that continuous improvement in this area, can only lead to continuous improvement in organisational performance.

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Sivaan Marie is a Lead Auditor for SABPP.  He conducted several audits against the National HR Standards.  He also chairs the HR Citizen Volunteering Committee of SABPP.  Sivaan is an HR Director at one of the top companies on the JSE.

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