“What gets measured, gets done” is a popular saying in performance improvement circles. There is more though. Yes, true as this is, measurement—and I’ll go a step further here and say auditing—is just part of the “gets done” piece. When crafted within a context of breakthrough performance, EHS auditing and the audit function in an EHS department can be a catalyst for accelerated performance improvement and EHS integration. EHS auditing is commonly viewed as a necessary evil or burden to satisfy regulatory and legal requirements. Within this context, the results are predictable. There is little if any enthusiasm; there is a struggle; and there can be challenges with inter-rater reliability.
When EHS auditing is formulated through an organizational learning and systems thinking lens—supported by an integrated EHS management system structure—the function shifts from being summative to formative, as program evaluation professionals would say. There is a shift toward action research that fosters partnership in solving EHS challenges. Audits are viewed as opportunities to see things not previously apparent. Casual links and patterns are distinguished in a way that people can see their roles in the “organizational systems” and see possibilities to alter the system and their roles.