A few years ago, I crossed from the world of developing and implementing management systems to the other side of the table - assessing and auditing. So, after what seemed to be a lifetime of being audited for stage ones, stage twos, surveillance and recertifications it was suddenly my turn to travel round to organisations, small and large, and be the one who assesses.
I knew from the outset the parameters of the job. I had trained as a lead auditor and knew the standards. I was sure that I could audit since I had done a lot of internal audits. The standards were the same and I was sure that I knew what the job would entail.
It seemed simple enough. Regardless of the size and complexity of the organisation, it boils down to this: the organisation’s system must conform with the standard(s) and they have to show to me that the system is effective in meeting the requirements for products and/or services within the scope of its activities and in accordance with its policy and objectives.
I remember the first organisation that I visited for an ISO 9001 Stage 1 audit. I came back for a successful Stage 2 and have now been their external auditor for long enough to have their recertification coming up soon. It’s great to see a management system mature, to see how people in the organisation work with their systems, analyse their data and continuously improve the way they work and the outcome for their clients.
It’s humbling to visit people who open their organisation and lay it bare for me and my colleagues to see. The level of trust they display in us is remarkable, answering probing questions and allowing us to rummage around in their records - not to mention the patience they display when I ask for yet another piece of evidence!
Today I visit many different clients; sizes from one to several thousand employees, from a shed in a back garden to large multi-site organisations across Europe. Apart from showing the obvious flexibility of the standard, it also shows how different every day is from the next.
Auditing is mostly done alone, but on occasion it happens that we are an audit team of two or more auditors. Apart from the obvious chance of keeping up to date with gossip and other essential information it also gives me an opportunity to see how my colleagues work – and that’s always a pleasure. Colleagues never fail to impress me with their knowledge and the way they can sit next to any employee at the client organisation and have them feel that their job is the most important role in their organisation. It’s that essential ability to connect with people, to understand what they do and ask the right question, in the right way, at the right time.
So, what does nearly three years as a Lead Auditor sum up to?
There isn’t a definitive list, but this is what I think is important, if not imperative:
Critical thinking. Coming into an organisation from the outside, critical thinking is fundamental. The ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe is essential. Your skills in this area will rapidly strengthen.
Being curious and sometimes sceptical. You need to know not only what happens but also why it happens and understand the processes in detail. It’s also about not taking anything for granted, and even with trusted clients you need to verify their claims.
Building and sustaining relationships: Without the ability to build relationships, clients won’t open up to you. Important issues might be missed and messages about potential problems or important conclusions may be rejected unnecessarily.
Being a good communicator. It’s paramount that you can convey information to people in simple terms. It’s about transmitting and receiving messages clearly and being able to read the auditees.
Having fun: As an auditor you meet people for just a few days every year. There’s no time for a bad day because before you know it, you’ll be off to the next client. So make the most of it - give each client your undivided attention and make sure that you enjoy the job!
If you’re interested in joining the Alcumus ISOQAR team, keep an eye on our vacancies page.