by Denise Robitaille
I had occasion recently to observe an auditor in a setting outside of an audit. It was interesting to note the manner in which he carried on conversations with various people during an informal meeting. Whomever he spoke with received his undivided attention. The transition in focus as the conversation moved back and forth amongst the meeting members was subtle without seeming surreptitious. His head shifted, his eyes riveted on the new speaker, and his whole body re-directed his attention.
His eyes never strayed or betrayed even a hint of boredom or distraction. I was struck by this man’s relaxed yet respectful demeanor and realized I was observing one of the finest qualities of a good auditor. The output of an audit, i.e., the audit report, is based upon observation. What do we observe and how do we observe it? What does the manner in which we scrutinize documents, records, finished goods, and other evidence communicate to the auditee? Do we register skepticism or disdain? Do our eyes glaze over revealing distraction or disinterest? Or do we glare at the auditee, creating an atmosphere of intimidation or feigned superiority? Do our eyes refute our claim of objectivity?
Although in some cultures sustained eye contact is considered invasive and disrespectful, in the vast majority of social settings, eye contact communicates interest and responsiveness. It encourages further discourse and alleviates tension. Thus, looking directly at the person with whom you are speaking is the most effective technique for conducting an audit interview.
Auditors must also spend time observing the environment in which processes are conducted. They must be able to assess if the work space and general infrastructure are appropriate for the work being done. Is it clean and well lit? Are tools easily accessible? Are there distractions or safety concerns that will interfere with the process or affect the product? Are there particular environmental requirements related to the industry?
Auditors are also required to assess support processes, such as calibration. Is the micrometer calibration current? Does the preventive maintenance tag hanging from the side of the CNC machine indicate if the maintenance is completed on time? Are parts properly tagged for traceability? Auditors must be observant.
How can an auditor balance two disparate needs—to focus on the auditees’ responses and to assess the evidence and environment in which the processes are being conducted? Auditors must be fully present to the individuals they are interviewing. This isn’t negotiable. No auditee should ever be made to feel that the auditor’s questions are superfluous or their answers unimportant.
So, how to ensure that all the other observations about tools and infrastructure requirements are handled? This is just another of the skills that auditors must hone. They need to be sensitive to the pauses and rhythms of the interview and to recognize moments to glance over at machines and tools. Subtle opportunities arise to assess and observe while an auditee is searching for a document or when your conversation is interrupted by an important phone call. Auditors also need to identify the right moment in the question sequence to say, “I’d like to take a few minutes to look over these records, or ID tags, or warehousing practices…”
Although these tactics at first may feel contrived, if they’re practiced regularly they will eventually become second nature. The result will be a more respectful audit experience for both the auditor and the auditee and a more productive audit result for the organization.
About the author
Denise Robitaille is the author of several books on various quality topics. She’s an internationally recognized speaker who brings years of experience in business and industry to her work in the quality profession. As the principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped numerous companies in diverse fields to achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. Robitaille is vice chair of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She’s also a RABQSA-certified lead assessor, an ASQ Certified Quality Auditor, and a fellow of ASQ.
Her books include The Corrective Action Handbook, The Management Review Handbook, The Preventive Action Handbook, Root Cause Analysis, Managing Supplier-Related Processes, and Document Control, all published by Paton Professional. She also co-authored The Insiders’ Guide to ISO 9001:2008.
Her newest book, 9 Keys to Successful Audits, is available now.
Tags: auditor’s eyes.