There are very few people in the world who enjoy auditing – whether they’re conducting or experiencing one, but a well-planned, well-executed audit provides incredibly valuable insight into an organization’s systems and functions. Part of that all-important planning and execution is accounting for the human factors involved: things like communication, trust, and teamwork. The value an organization gets from an audit will be much greater if there is a positive relationship between auditors and staff, and the overall experience will be more unifying and less disruptive. Make no mistake, the technical expertise of your auditor is crucial, but an auditor’s interpersonal skills are equally important and far more often overlooked.
People are always more engaged and more forthcoming when they are speaking to someone who they feel is “on their level”; someone who is personable, transparent, and shares their objectives. As such, audits will be more comprehensive and more productive if your staff feels at ease when working with the auditor, and if the auditor understands how to get the most out of their interpersonal interactions during the audit. Some people are naturally gifted with social situations, and some organizations have the luxury of choosing an auditor who is both a technical expert and gifted interviewer, but a few of the most common sources of interpersonal friction can be avoided with just a few considerations:
Use Positive Reinforcement
Auditors should be attentive and reinforce the value of the information the staff shares with them. They should provide positive feedback when staff are helpful, clear, and engaged. They should also be transparent about what information they are seeking, why they are seeking it, and how the questions they ask are pertinent to that goal.
Avoid Power Imbalance
Hierarchical dynamics make people uncomfortable and put them on guard. No matter how good your company culture is, the power imbalance associated with different levels of authority are always present. Try to choose an auditor who your staff are not likely to perceive as a direct authority over them.
Take the Time You Need
Leave plenty of time in the auditing schedule for auditors to be thorough and to build up a rapport with the people they are working with. Audits are time-consuming by nature and efficiency is a noble goal, but if staff feel rushed as they gather information or get through interviews and observations, they will be less accurate and more inclined to become frustrated with the auditor and the audit process.
Audits are meant to identify potential nonconformities, not to critique an organization or its staff. As a rule, if the auditor can’t express the nonconformity in the exact language set out by the standard, policy, or document they are using to conduct the audit, it is not a nonconformity. Auditors can and should make note of observations or concerns that may lead to a nonconformity, but an audit is no place for personal opinions.
Interpersonal skills can be difficult to learn but developing a better awareness of how friction arises and how it affects the outcome of your audit is an important first step. Considerations like these will help you gather the most accurate information and make the whole process less stressful for both auditors and staff. For a complete education on auditing, consider one of AWPT’s many exceptional auditing courses, from Managing Risk in Your Organization to Auditing Your Laboratory to ISO/IEC 17025:2017.