How to have a better auditor/auditee relationship

Emergency Response Planning: 5 tips for success

Emergency Response Planning: 5 tips for success

Our sunburnt country is currently facing devastating impacts from heavy rain and flooding. Here at IMAS we hope everyone is safe and supported during this heartbreaking time. I myself, along with my neighbours have been trapped on our property for four days now, cut...

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What is risk based thinking?

What is risk based thinking?

Back in 2015 there was a game-changing shift for ISO 9001 (Quality Management Systems - Requirements). Everyone was used to the normal Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Everyone knew they had boxes to tick and processes to follow. And yet...there was still something...

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What is an effective Assurance Programme?

What is an effective Assurance Programme?

The term "Assurance Programme" gets thrown about quite a bit. Sadly, this is the aspect of the management system that I consistently see ISO 9001 certified organisations struggling with. In this article we'll explore why we need an effective assurance programme and...

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Emergency Response Planning: 5 tips for success

Emergency Response Planning: 5 tips for success

Our sunburnt country is currently facing devastating impacts from heavy rain and flooding. Here at IMAS we hope everyone is safe and supported during this heartbreaking time. I myself, along with my neighbours have been trapped on our property for four days now, cut...

read more
What is risk based thinking?

What is risk based thinking?

Back in 2015 there was a game-changing shift for ISO 9001 (Quality Management Systems - Requirements). Everyone was used to the normal Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Everyone knew they had boxes to tick and processes to follow. And yet...there was still something...

read more
Emergency Response Planning: 5 tips for success

Emergency Response Planning: 5 tips for success

Our sunburnt country is currently facing devastating impacts from heavy rain and flooding. Here at IMAS we hope everyone is safe and supported during this heartbreaking time. I myself, along with my neighbours have been trapped on our property for four days now, cut...

read more
Did the dog REALLY eat your homework…?

Did the dog REALLY eat your homework…?

I want to start a very candid conversation about objective evidence, what is it really, why do we have it, and why is it so important? This topic is for both members of an organisation and also for auditors. 1: What is Objective Evidence? There's a plethora of...

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What is risk based thinking?

What is risk based thinking?

Back in 2015 there was a game-changing shift for ISO 9001 (Quality Management Systems - Requirements). Everyone was used to the normal Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Everyone knew they had boxes to tick and processes to follow. And yet...there was still something...

read more
Did the dog REALLY eat your homework…?

Did the dog REALLY eat your homework…?

I want to start a very candid conversation about objective evidence, what is it really, why do we have it, and why is it so important? This topic is for both members of an organisation and also for auditors. 1: What is Objective Evidence? There's a plethora of...

read more
What is risk based thinking?

What is risk based thinking?

Back in 2015 there was a game-changing shift for ISO 9001 (Quality Management Systems - Requirements). Everyone was used to the normal Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Everyone knew they had boxes to tick and processes to follow. And yet...there was still something...

read more

The auditor and auditee relationship is delicate. On one hand, you have a professional who puts their heart and soul into their work that is suddenly up for “examination”. On the other hand, you have a professional who is measuring evidence against requirements. It is a vulnerable position to be in for both parties. While on the surface auditing can appear to be the world’s most boring job, it requires a significant level of emotional intelligence and humanism to be any good at it.

There are many situations a person can find themselves on the receiving end of an audit. It could be (and should be) simply a part of routine internal improvement processes. Alternatively, you may be asked to participate in what is called an external audit. This could be a Certification Body coming in to determine the appropriate certification status of your company, or it could be a client or other authority initiating an audit against legal, contractual, or other requirements.

There is a very good reason why audits are a fundamental part of management systems. They provide a snapshot in time to reveal the performance of a management system. Yet so often I observe professionals on both sides of the fence feeling disgruntled regarding what should be an extremely valuable process. There are three guidelines I recommend for ensuring the audit can be successful, even enjoyable:

1: Remember your humanity.

Whether you are preparing to be audited for the very first time, or you have been on this road before, it is completely normal to have audit anxiety. This is something that I go out of my way to stress to auditees and auditors more often than I should have to, which indicates there is a rampant disconnect in our industry.

There are many reasons why auditee’s might be feeling audit nerves. There might be a perceived or actual consequence for a poor audit result. The individual might be naturally predisposed to anxious tendencies. The individual might be under an overwhelming amount of professional and personal stress that we do not know about. Auditors need to remember that we are dealing with human beings that are operating a system. Taking the time to use emotional intelligence and compassion to simply ask “How are you feeling?” goes a very long way. Listen to their fears, their worries, and their concerns. It can be tempting to “get stuck in” and launch into the audit activities but I guarantee, taking ten minutes to connect on a human level will make the process far more successful.

If your auditor asks you “how are you feeling?” this is your opportunity to be heard! Be honest, be open. There is a high possibility that the audit anxiety story you have projected in your mind is just that, a story. If we auditors know what is causing you discomfort, we can help work you through it.

I once audited a Contractor, and my auditee was abrasive, borderline rude, inattentive, and quite grumpy. I was repeating questions, again and again, he was getting frustrated, I was getting frustrated and we were only an hour into the day. I took a deep breath and said, “let’s get a coffee”. We walked away from the desk and started chatting over the coffee machine. I asked this simple question “how are you feeling?”. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and shrugged. I paused for a moment, taking in his body language, and gently said “You don’t need to give me details, but I’m sensing that you are troubled by something. If there is anything I can do to make this day easier for you, please let me know”. It was at that point that he broke down in tears and said that he had overslept due to a bad night’s sleep, and in the rush to get to work on time had accidentally run over the family dog. The dog was at the vet undergoing surgery and they didn’t know if the dog would survive.

A few moments of compassion, reassurance and discussing alternative options if he needed to pop out to the vet and he brightened (still devastated obviously). But the point is, we were able to get our jobs done far more successfully because we connected on a human level. The auditor was no longer the enemy and we both had better days.

2: Audits assess the system effectiveness, not how well people do their jobs.

How often have you been before an auditor and heard that annoying little voice whisper “how well you do in this audit is a reflection on you”? Let me tell you right now, that voice is a complete liar. I believe in this concept so much, that I reiterate this message repeatedly before, during and after an audit.

A good auditor will use language that reflects this philosophy. Word choices are important! Let me give you an example: An auditor is trying to determine conformity to a requirement for verification of a product before it is released, and detects a nonconformity.

Examples of poor language choices:

  • How do you verify the product?
  • Why didn’t you do this step?
  • You haven’t verified that properly.
  • Your plan says you will do XYZ, but you haven’t done it so I’m giving you a nonconformity.

Examples of good language choices:

  • What process has the organisation committed to, so the requirement is met?
  • What examples of a completed verification are recorded in the system that we could review?
  • What reasons could there be for a deviation to the documented process?
  • The system has not produced sufficient evidence to demonstrate conformity to the requirement and needs improvement. This will be raised as a nonconformity.

This is the same conversation but phrased using language that makes it about the system, not the person.

3: Stop being petty.

This one is bound to raise a few eyebrows, but this equally applies to both sides of the fence. As soon as auditors start raising nonconformities for spelling errors, missing objectives, milestones, or due dates by mere hours then you WILL lose the respect of the person you are auditing.

My pet hate is seeing a nonconformity on an audit report for a quality policy not being posted on a wall. It drives me crazy and this is why:

  1. Nowhere in ISO 9001 does it say “thou shalt post the policy on the wall” and
  2. Who goes around reading these things on the walls anyway???

The requirement asks the organisation to communicate the policy to interested parties. The organisation might have committed to slapping it on the wall, but equally, they might have also said things like “it’s part of our induction, it’s on our intranet, it’s included in our manuals, we toolbox it, we use it in meetings”. If the organisation is communicating the policy in other ways that are meaningful, that’s all that matters really. At best, an Opportunity for Improvement could be raised to revise the documented commitments on policy communication.

What I’m getting at here is that Auditors are not there to police the organisation. You are there to add real value. Auditors are given an audit scope by the audit client. That scope can be very broad or very narrow. However, the thing that often is not discussed, is that auditors are expected to apply professional judgement and risk-based thinking. Listen to the concerns of your audit client, what are their perceived high-risk areas within the scope? Ask yourselves what are you being paid for? Are they paying you several thousand dollars to pick on spelling mistakes, or are you there to provide them with confidence that requirements are being met, products are meeting specification, workers and the public won’t be killed or injured, and that the environment won’t be harmed? Audit those important areas within your scope first. Take the time to understand the evidence.

As for auditees, remember your auditors are there to do a job. You might not like being audited, it might feel inconvenient, but it is a necessary activity to ensure your organisation achieves success. Success means winning more work, improved reputations, improved relationships and just an easier day at work! Audits are not the place for egos, resistance or arguing. Someone either within your own organisation much higher up the food chain, or external to your company is paying a very expensive invoice for you to sit with the auditor for a day or two. Treat your auditor as if you were paying the invoice yourself.

A good auditor will be a system and industry subject matter expert. A good, experienced auditor would have seen hundreds if not thousands of different ways that organisations have met the requirement or made mistakes. Ask lots and lots of questions. An auditor cannot tell you how your system should work but can certainly have a conversation and offer a different perspective based on their experiences. Audits are supposed to be based on the spirit of continual improvement. It can be painful, or it can be productive and dare I say it, even exciting if you decide to have that experience.

 

Final message:

Audits are more complex than they appear at a first glance. For those few days that two strangers come together, remember you can both commit to having a positive experience. Be human with each other, be kind, do not make it personal and do not be petty.

Karice Grundon PCQI, 01 March 2021

Karice Grundon PCQI is an experienced Certified Lead Auditor across several ISO standards, a mentor for emerging auditors in the profession and the Director and Principal Consultant of Integrated Management & Assurance Solutions Pty Ltd. If you would like to learn more about Karice or get in contact, you can do so through LinkedIn or directly through her company website . Don’t forget to subscribe to follow Karice for future content.

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