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Supercharge your skills base for effective quality management

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 17 May 2022

ISQM 1 is raising the bar for quality management standards, but which approaches should audit firms and their staff take to boost the skills needed for this new era?

Quality management is fundamental to the faith placed in audit, says Moore Global Director of Quality (Europe) Gill Spaul. “Our business comes from being seen, and believed, to be good at what we do,” she says. “To have quality, ethics and procedures in place that promote trust.”

Without trust and competence, she notes, there is no business. “We need people to trust us. And for that, they have to be confident that the structures around us ensure that we’ll deliver high-quality work.”

Chiming with Spaul’s earlier point on ethics, Catherine Hardinge, Partner, Compliance, at Price Bailey Chartered Accountants, says: “The main thing we examine when considering someone’s aptitude for quality management is, do they have the right attitude? Do they want to do a good job? Do they care about their work?

“You can provide training to help with any technical shortfalls. But having the right attitude to the work, underpinned by the correct values and ethos, is important. You have to want to do the right thing – even when no one is looking,” Hardinge adds.

Expression and attitude

With ISQM 1 setting more exacting standards in this field, then, which capabilities will help firms supercharge quality management skills? For Spaul, the ability to write in clear sentences is paramount. “You have to be able to justify what you’re doing,” she says, “and, if you lead a team, you have to be able to explain it to your staff. Plus, everyone else must be able to document what they’re doing, why, and how.”

For example, remediation was an implicit theme of ISQC 1, but is even more prominent in ISQM 1, Spaul says: “In remediation, pinning down the root cause of a deficiency involves the expression of ideas and opinions – together with justifications for why you have taken a particular view. All of that requires strong communication skills – particularly in writing.”

Tapestry of tasks

An organised mind is also vital, in Spaul’s view. “Quality management works on more than one plane – not just along the X and Y axes,” she says, “There is a strong call for intuition: ISQM 1 requires you to: a) work out what you’re trying to achieve; b) identify which risks may threaten that process; and c) gauge your concern over each risk.”

In addition, she points out, “The standard requires you to evaluate your own progress along the way, which can throw up issues that need fixing. So, it’s very iterative – and, amid those iterations, you must have the ability to step back and consider the big picture.”

For people with responsibility for quality management, that extends to the process of assigning tasks. “If you delegate someone a task as though it exists in isolation,” Spaul says, “they may perform it in that spirit, which could cause problems. So, you must convey that the task is part of a tapestry, and where it fits into that wider scheme.”

On the point of how quality management skills have evolved over time, Spaul notes: “Technology tools are an obvious area. The new standard requires us to put much more effort into thinking about the ‘why’ behind the tools we use – and, indeed, any other services provided by external suppliers, such as training courses.”

Spaul explains: “Neither audit in general, nor quality management in particular, are one-size-fits-all activities. So, there’s a lot more focus on choosing the resources that are appropriate for your firm’s needs.”

She notes: “People should go on training courses because a specific need within their skillset has been identified, they have requested to be developed in a certain way or their firm has decided to develop them in a particular direction. Not to meet arbitrary quotas for the number of courses they should attend, or to fit in with days when they happen to be free.”

Setting the tone

How, then, should senior auditors ensure that their teams are covering all the essential bases of quality management?

“Culture and leading by example are key,” Hardinge says. “Firms must implement the correct policies and procedures to ensure that teams are clear on expectations and the standards required of them.

In order to deliver on an expectation, Hardinge notes, a team must first understand it. “That requires clear, consistent messaging. If every member knows what’s required, they can be rewarded for good examples and held accountable for their actions.”

To encourage staff to hone their quality management skills, team leaders should lead by example through their own learning, Hardinge says: “You can’t ask one thing of your team members and then do something different yourself. Mentoring and coaching are also important – as well as having a culture in which people are happy to raise and discuss any skills concerns.”

While Spaul also recommends mentoring, she says she understands why some people are averse to it: “They don’t necessarily feel comfortable with that close level of personal interaction. But the important thing to remember is that staff with those feelings are still valid people – you just need to find alternative ways to help them reach their potential. Make your solutions fit for purpose – that applies to people development as much as it does to ethics and software tools.”

In the ongoing drive for effective quality management, tone flows from the top, Spaul says: “That was an important concept under ISQC 1, and is still relevant today. How you convey your attitude as a leader is the single biggest factor that’s going to influence your staff.”

She adds: “If personnel can see that quality is valued, and that advancement and remuneration policies are designed to promote good quality – in other words, that focusing on this area, caring about it and doing a really great job is recognised and rewarded – that will encourage more and more people to build their capabilities.”

Quality management

With new quality management standards for audit on the horizon, there is an opportunity for firms of all sizes to supercharge their audits and reap significant knock-on benefits that go beyond ticking the regulatory box


Recent articles

Quality management

With new quality management standards for audit on the horizon, there is an opportunity for firms of all sizes to supercharge their audits and reap significant knock-on benefits that go beyond ticking the regulatory box


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