by Denise Robitaille
There aren’t too many things in any individual’s work experience that arouse more unwarranted terror than a performance review. Despite the fact that assessments and reviews are intended to provide an objective picture of someone’s competence – strengths and weaknesses – they persist as harbingers of something distasteful. Like school age students, we hate to be tested.
Auditors are required to periodically demonstrate continued competence. It’s not a bad idea. Demonstrating auditor competence actually protects the clients from lousy audits that can have a detrimental effect on the organization. Clients have the right to have their systems assessed by auditors who are capable and competent.
One of the methods used to assess auditor competence is the witnessed audit. Generally, a representative from either the registrar (also called a certification body – or CB) or the registrar’s accrediting body (AB) tag along and observe an auditor in the field. In both instances the purpose is to verify conformance to the registrar’s procedures, utilization of accepted audit practice and competence in the requisite field. The registrar needs to prove to the AB that its auditors conform to the requirements. Concurrently, it also assures itself that auditors are representing them appropriately. The AB needs to ensure that audits conducted reflect the high standards of the conformity assessment community. For both entities their reputation is on the line. A registrar’s certificate carries two marks: its own logo and that of its accrediting body. If you have a certificate that lacks one or both marks all you have is worthless wallpaper.
Auditors get witnessed on either a two or three year cycle. Since registrars have several auditors, the likelihood that a client will be part of a witnessed audit more than once in 5 years is slim.
Unfortunately, some auditors communicate their dread of witnessed audits to their clients. That, in turn, panics the client who now is concerned that the auditor will write up more nonconformances in order to prove to the registrar or AB that they can be tough. This is silly. If auditors have been doing their jobs right along, they will not write up fewer or more findings than are warranted. However, if the auditors have been inappropriately lax in the past, the client may end up with findings that should have been rightfully issued during previous audits.
What should auditors do to prepare for a witnessed audit? First, they should follow the rules during every audit so that they don’t have to adjust the way they work during a witnessed audit to please the registrar or AB. For example, if an auditor has done two or three surveillance for the same client there may be a temptation to abbreviate the opening meeting. Opening meetings carry specific requirements often enumerated in itemized lists. There’s no good excuse to skip any of these items. The scope may have changed; there may be a new manager or the organization may have revised their protocols for personal protection equipment.
The client will notice if you’ve changed your manner (like stiffly and clumsily going down a list of opening meeting requirements) and may interpret your altered demeanor as an indication of fear. This is not an atmosphere conducive to openness and objectivity.
So, follow the rules. Prepare a comprehensive audit plan, conduct a complete opening meeting, perform an objective assessment and write a report that reflects well justified findings. Do it every time and you should never have to sweat a witnessed audit.
How should the client prepare for the witnessed audit? Have an extra chair for the opening and closing meetings, extra safety glasses, if they’re needed, and one more coffee mug. Beyond that, everything else should flow as it would with any other audit.
The witnessing auditor is not part of the audit team. This individual’s role is to observe and assess the auditor – not your quality management system. They should not interject themselves into the audit process. Treat them as guests and recognize that their presence indicates a genuine commitment to your right to an effective and beneficial audit experience.
About the author
Denise E. Robitaille is an active member of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She is also principal of Robitaille Associates, committed to making your quality system meaningful. Through training, Robitaille helps you turn audits, corrective actions, management reviews, and processes of implementing ISO 9001 into value-added features of your company. She’s an Exemplar Glogal-certified lead assessor, ASQ-certified quality auditor, and ASQ Fellow. She’s the author of numerous articles and many books, including The Corrective Action Handbook and The Preventive Action Handbook, and a co-author of The Insider’s Guide to ISO 9001:2008, all published by Paton Professional.