by Andy Hofmann
Recent events caused me to reflect on whether the personality traits auditors use in their private and professional lives are connected. The obvious answer is that of course they are because they occupy the same body; but how the similarities interrelate, that is the interesting bit.
The event that spurred this idea was a class reunion I recently attended. Nineteen years ago, my executive MBA (EMBA) class of 49 people achieved our graduate degrees. Due to the recent passing of three members of the class, we decided to organize an event before anyone else left us permanently.
As in any class, there was a distribution of personalities and talent but to qualify for the EMBA program class members had to have achieved something notable in their careers. Some were already presidents and vice presidents of organizations. Others were still trying to find their way. Still others were lawyers and doctors and medical professionals who wanted to sharpen their understanding of the business side of their operations.
Even with all this diversity, talented people tend to work together for the betterment of the group. In this case, all EMBA students were required to earn “Bs,” the minimum standard for graduate-level work. Group and individual work had to achieve this standard to be considered acceptable to the customer. In the EMBA program, there were two customers: the study group and the university’s standards.
The real evaluation of performance took place in study groups. Each member’s competence and motivation was assessed by the group. When the minimum “B” standard was not achieved, the group would examine each member’s performance. Was each member assigned tasks that were clear? Did he or she have the skills to accomplish them? When the group determined that it had assigned tasks outside of the member’s capability, someone would tutor him or her. However, if the assessment determined that motivation—not competency—was the cause of a member’s sub-par work, there were serious consequences. Several members of study groups were “fired” because they would not deliver against commitment. Notice the subtlety of the use of “would” in the previous sentence. There is a world of difference in “would” vs. “could,” and this determination made a big difference in how a struggling group member was treated. In the first eight weeks of the EMBA program, six group members were told they had to leave.
International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards (9, 14, 18, 22, 50, and so on) correlate with this observation. Each standard includes a requirement to demonstrate a method for determining competence. Were an auditor to assess the EMBA dynamic stated above, he or she would be hard pressed not to come away with the determination that a system existed. Each and every group deployed the same method. Each and every group fired at least one team member due to lack of motivation, not lack of capability.
Not one of the fired team members attended the reunion of my EMBA class. The reason for this is simple: none of them finished the program. That is a gob smacking degree of accuracy in making a competency determination. I will also add that the group’s system of competency determination was never documented. It did not exist in a procedure or a process flow diagram. There was no training matrix to guide the way, but it did achieve the desired result. It must have been compliant with clause 6.2.2 from ISO 9001.
My point is that methods don’t always have to be documented to be effective. There were records of the actions taken—removal of team members along with the reasons for their removal. This permitted the process to be audited by the university.
Reunions always make time appear to stand still. Although your eyes tell you that the person in front of you has changed physically, almost everyone tells each other, “You haven’t changed one bit!” Beyond a well-accepted pleasant saying, is there anything to this?
Our class reunion was held in a bar that we frequented as the “fifth class of the day.” It’s directly across from the campus and was a good place to reflect on what went well at class that day and what did not, to commiserate on how difficult this subject or that was to understand, and to figure out how to juggle a full-time job with at least 30 hours of class work per week.
Because I organized the reunion, I was at the designated watering hole before anyone else. I meet thousands of people a year so it can be hard to remember everyone, but after some of the class members started speaking it was as if 19 years had disappeared. The tone and quality of their voices, their familiar mannerisms as they offered their hands in greeting; all of it was still there.
I found that as my classmates spoke about their lives since we graduated, they hadn’t changed much. The flighty ones had been in several positions and now run a division, a company, or used to. They were still searching for the perfect fit. The focused ones had been with the same company since we graduated but had risen to the top through sheer determination and an IQ of 178. Those in between had done well, successful by the only measure that really matters, their own. In other words, they hadn’t changed a bit.
What does all of this have to with auditing? A team is assembled with a distinct purpose. In an educational environment, the purpose is certification or graduation. In an audit, it’s to determine the acceptability of a system to award or renew a registration. As auditors, we often work in teams. When a team clicks, it’s magic. When it does not, it’s hell.
Here is a recent example of the latter. I was assigned to work with another auditor on a combined ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 audit, so we met the night before it was to begin. As the lead auditor, I drew up the audit plan and assigned certain processes to the auditor. My colleague informed me that he didn’t audit by process. Thinking I had misunderstood, I asked for clarification and was told that the only way to determine if a requirement of the standard had been met was to audit it directly.
This person went on to indicate that I needed to change the audit plan to accommodate this audit style. I was thankful for the small mercy of having this discussion prior to meeting with the client. Even when I pointed out that process auditing has been required since ISO 9001:2000 was released, this person was not moved. I advised the auditor that if he wasn’t prepared to audit in accordance with the plan, he wasn’t welcome the next day. In the end, I found a last-minute replacement for this auditor and went on to a successful engagement.
Currently, the accreditation bodies that regulate third-party audit organizations pay close attention to auditor qualification. They want to see documentation that audit team members have credible backgrounds in whatever the company they are auditing provides (SIC or EAC codes). They look for auditor or lead auditor credentials and training.
You can probably guess what they’re not looking for. They are not looking to see how many times an audit organization has removed an auditor and why. As previously discussed, a functioning competency determination model will include people who don’t measure up–an auditor motivation component complementing the competency component. In some cases, these people can be given tasks more suited to their skills. In other cases, the person may not want to or cannot learn the minimum competency requirements. The model has to leave these people aside and devote resources where there is a return.
Perhaps next time you look at a competency model you will think of a class reunion. There will be people who “have not changed a bit” and some who “would not change a bit.” The model needs to be able to demonstrate both sides of the equation–auditor competency and auditor motivation.
About the author
Andy Hofmann has been involved with management systems for more than 30 years. He has audited more than 2,500 systems, giving him a unique opportunity view of organizations that are performing well and those that struggle. A regular contributor to American Society for Quality management systems conferences and publications, Hofmann’s intellectual property has received wide acceptance. Currently the president of ICS Certification Services, Hofmann continues to work with management systems professionals throughout North America. He has an MBA from the University of Toronto and is a Certified Engineering Technologist.