This interview was originally published in the April 2012 edition of the EQUASS Newsflash
Sissel Andreassen has visited more than 110 rehabilitation organisations in Norway. She has performed 85 audits, 23 audit test-days and one supervision-day in organisations with a staff varying from 2 persons to 1500.
How and when did you first get involved with EQUASS?
Accidently on a Web-search, I found a notice that Norway was looking for EQUASS Assurance Auditors. At that time, I had been working as a nurse with Quality Improvement in Health Care service for many years. I hoped I could use my experience in another area, and followed an Assurance auditor training in Oslo in February 2007. It took some time before the organisations were ready for an audit, so my first visit to a rehabilitation organisation was in June 2008. Since then, I have been a lucky EQUASS auditor, having had the opportunity to visit 110 organisations.
Why would you recommend this system to social services providers?
The system contains agreed, necessary elements that, in my opinion, make it a good management tool to ensure development of the staff and the organisation and to achieve expected services for persons served and customers. Another benefit is the focus on results according to the organisational mission and not only on financial and production conditions. It is my opinion that the EQUASS certification results in a professionalization of service provision in Norway.
Can you describe one of the best moments of your career as an EQUASS auditor?
After visiting so many organisations, sure I have a lot of good moments in my memory! And luckily I have only very few bad moments. Perhaps the best one was one person served who told me that, thanks to EQUASS, his plan now was very good with "hairy goals!" Or another one, a person with a major disability, who told me that this was like a EU-control for cars: I check up some points every second year but they are responsible for daily maintenance! Isn't it lovely? I have told this story many times.
It's never fun to say "no - you do not comply with the criteria." More than one organisation has told me that the process not being approved the first time had given them more confidence to the standard, and a necessary learning experience. This shows me the benefits of auditing, as an important tool in the improvement process, and a good moment for me.
What are some the challenges that you have faced?
Writing audit reports in English was my first challenge. Looking back, fortunately I can see a personal improvement during the past years!
It may also be a challenge during two days to get the necessary overview and understanding about the structure, system, culture and attitudes in big organisations, sometimes with several locations. But this is why auditing is so exciting and challenging! You must use all your knowledge about quality system and cooperative processes. In some cases the organisations' motivation might be a challenge since the system is required here in Norway, and is not something they had chosen themselves. Luckily I have just experienced difficult communication and cooperation a few times only.
Based on your extensive experience, do you have some advices for EQUASS auditors? And for social service providers?
To be an EQUASS Assurance Auditor requires structured work, humility and a special interest for organisation system and culture. It takes some time to get to know the framework well - to learn the system's logic and coherence. This demands a volume of audits over a period of time. Just a few audits a year must be like starting all over again every time. My overall advice to auditors must be: work systematic and with respect for the framework and the social service provider. Some service providers say that the standard EQUASS Assurance is designed for big organisations. In Norway we have a lot of small organisations. When I ask them which element is not necessary for their organisation, the question is unanswered. It may look too comprehensive with 100 questions, but when they get familiar with the content and context – they all are useful. For me, the EQUASS Assurance is two improving cycles; one on individual and one on system level. I hope everyone learns to see the benefits of having a good management system like this.
My advice to service providers is: develop a system based on KISS – keep it small and simple and measure results of efforts. Every management system should give service providers motivational feedback. It's my opinion that we are good at planning – very good at doing – not so good at studying our results of service provided - and not good at systematic, structured improvement based on facts. Learn by doing – and discover that it's useful and fun!