Elisabeth Thaller has been working in the quality profession for the past 26 years as a consultant and evaluator. However, it was only recently that Thaller started calling herself an auditor. Throughout her career, Thaller has learned a lot about the importance of consulting and auditing—particularly, the value that the process can bring to an organization.
Reflecting on her career, Thaller says that she “just happened” to become an auditor. After completing an undergraduate degree in hospitality management, Thaller accepted a consulting role with a company in Mexico to work with a restaurant franchise to help them implement a standardized management system.
The first thing Thaller had to do was an audit—something she had never done before. Plus, the audit had to be done in Spanish—a language she didn’t speak.
“It was challenging and fun at the same time because I knew what I was doing, I was in the environment that I was familiar with, and everybody was friendly,” Thaller says of the experience.
“I thought, yeah, I want to do this. Quality assurance and management is something really new to me and there is so much to do in this field. I really want to learn and get really good at it.”
Thaller has spent most of her career working as a consultant.
“When you are a consultant, you do audits,” she says. “You first look at the organization you are going to work with to see how they do things—that’s an audit. You pick up on things and see what they do right, or wrong, or what they could do better. Then you do your work, and you do another audit, or somebody else comes in and audits your work.”
For Thaller, auditing and consulting work gives her a great sense of achievement that she has made a difference and has added value to an organization.
“I can add value to the auditee’s organization through my feedback and external approach,” Thaller says. “If I see something, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t noticed it, but maybe they haven’t looked at it in the same way that I am.”
Thaller also works at “the source of the auditing profession” with training providers as an Exemplar Global evaluator.
“Training providers, whose products are auditors, are the source of everything,” she explains. “They can produce either good or bad auditors. Being there, auditing them, and having the opportunity to give them my feedback is just great. Usually, my feedback is well accepted, and I know they will apply whatever they can.”
Like Thaller, many see the value of auditing; however, this wasn’t always the case. Throughout her 26 years in the profession, Thaller has seen a considerable shift in the way that auditors are perceived.
“Years ago, an auditor used to be that guy in the black suit with the very serious face coming in like a tax inspector, and everyone was afraid of him,” she says.
Thaller quickly realized that this style of auditing wasn’t for her.
“I’m a friendly person, so I thought how am I going to put on a serious face?” Thaller explains. “I decided that I can’t change who I am, but I can still do my job and be efficient and can come across as professional and serious. Yet during my lunch break, I can still have a conversation with the auditee without it affecting the overall outcome of the audit.
“I think this is what is happening in the industry; auditors are no longer seen as those scary guys who come to get you into trouble. I think they are seen as someone who comes in to help you to do a better job or to improve the effectiveness of your management system.”
These changes could be attributed to the evolution of the profession over time and to the fact that management system standards don’t work in the same way they did 30 years ago.
“The overall perspective has changed; it’s so much more focused on improvement and effectiveness of the management system.”
Even the perception of the auditing process itself has changed. Once thought of as an inspection—going through the standard clause by clause to see if an organization conforms—auditing has very much shifted to a process approach.
“When you apply a process approach correctly, you add value,” Thaller notes. “When you come in with the approach that you want to add value, the organization sees you in a different way, and you see them in a different way.”
Thaller believes that having auditors who add value and help companies improve and be better at what they do through an effective audit is the current challenge for the profession.
“In the end, it should be reflected in the overall outcome of their business—in the money and the gains they make, the customers they are able to retain, and the new customers they are able to gain,” Thaller says.