Have you ever visited a location to conduct an audit only to see prior audit follow-up was never completed? Tired of discussing the same concerns over and over again each time you visit a location? Take a look at your post-audit action plan…maybe it doesn’t tell the store exactly how to resolve the issues at hand.
The purpose of an action plan is to provide guidance and instruction to management and associates on how to respond and correct operational “opportunities” identified during an audit. More often than not, action plans are hastily written to move the process along (ending the audit) with little time and attention given to its content or potential effectiveness to address and correct the issues at hand. If properly thought out, an action plan can be a highly effective tool to correct any significant compliance issues, prevent future compliance issues and serve as a training tool for all associates.
Here are some “actions” and best practices to think about and consider when developing an action plan:
Involvement and Responsibility
Who is involved in creating, approving and taking ownership of the action plan? Yes, the person conducting the audit has a role in the process, but what about members of store management? Should the district manager be included or, at a minimum, be notified and have responsibility regarding consequential actions. What about store associates present during the audit? Think about what each group can offer to benefit the plan and involve them; involvement = ownership.
How will each “opportunity” be addressed in the form of an action or resolution? Be careful of using generic action plan “text” as it may not fully address the needs of the issue. Yes, many opportunities that arise may also occur across other locations, however the cause and follow up can be unique. This is not to say you cannot use generic text, but also allow for specific instructions designed to target the issue for the individual location.
Assignments and Roles
Does your action plan rest solely on the Store Manager to correct audit inefficiencies? Although store management is responsible for operational controls, it is usually found that other associates were the cause for these “opportunities.” A good action plan should be established (and written) to delegate specific assignments to those who may have created the “opportunities” and therefore have a role in correcting the issues. Management should remain, however, as the level responsible for ensuring that these associates understand their assignments and the need to address any action items. Specific assignments should also be determined based on the complexity of the resolution plan and the amount of time required addressing and correcting the issues.
How long should you give a location to correct the action items identified during an audit? The time to correct “opportunities” is best determined on an individual “opportunity” basis, depending on the severity of the issue (the potential for theft loss, profit loss or other effects on the business), what is required for follow up and a standard expectation of resolution. A quick analysis of the causes will confirm the amount of time necessary to resolve each specific issue. Allow enough time to make certain compliance is the rule and not the exception. Partner in all parties involved in the action plan process and solicit agreement upon the defined deadlines.
Follow Up / Re-Audit
At what point should an action plan’s progress be followed up or reviewed? Proper development and including the right people in its development would allow for review at any point when resolution, assignment or time frame can be evaluated. This includes the next time a district manager visits the location, a loss prevention representative visits the location or when the next audit is conducted. Good audit programs also include non-visit follow up such as progress reports, telephone follow-up and other touches during the action plan time frame. These touches not only keep everyone on target for resolution but can also help to adjust or “tweak” action plans throughout the process.
If properly created and executed, the action plan brings the purpose of the audit “full circle”. It is intended to verify, inspect and correct any operational concerns found during the audit process. Therefore, at the time of the next audit for that location you will not have to address the same concerns and issues again.
Written by Donald Sutherland, Director of Audit Development and Training