Well, there isn’t a studio audience, and chances are the Auditor didn’t bring a panic button. You may not think of it, but phoning a friend might really be an option for you. If you want to phone a friend, you simply have to be smart about it: know what’s going through the Auditor’s mind, and then you can seek help from a co-worker in the right way.
Did you know that Auditors can smell fear? They can tell if you’re scared from a mile away, and they will pounce at the first sign of weakness. If an auditor asks you a question and senses you are nervous or indecisive, they will immediately start digging until you have no other thing to say except, “Yes, this is my fault, I admit it, we are not complying with the standard!” In essence, your fear is seen as a reflection of a process that is out of control.
The point is that when the auditor sees that you are hesitant, you are giving him/her ammunition to go after this weak area. Now, don’t get me wrong; if the process is weak, by all means, don’t try to hide it. Problems need to be faced before they can be solved. But if you are a little bit shy or nervous about the audit, you might be intimidated by an Auditor and wind up making a good process look bad. Besides knowing in advance that an Auditor will press harder if you seem nervous, you also must know whether you really have something to be nervous about, as well as how best to act in either case. Again, if the process is in control, then there is nothing to be worried about.
Sometimes it is hard to explain why a certain approach to an ISO requirement was set. Take, for example, supplier reevaluations. You remember discussing the requirement during the implementation phase and deciding that filling out a short form would make more sense than filling out a long form because your company is small and, in general, your suppliers are not critical or sole suppliers. However, now the auditor is in front of you, asking you why your form looks so short and suggesting you are missing valuable information. What should you do?
I have seen people immediately begin to question themselves and their approach, suddenly agreeing with the Auditor that the form is wrong. In this example, however, there’s nothing to fear. The form is good, so explain your position and your rationale for taking that approach to the Auditor. Unfortunately, some Auditors are narrow-minded and make you think that there is only one good way to accomplish every ISO requirement. So, while you should always consider an Auditor’s critiques very seriously, don’t give in so soon. Stand your ground and explain your approach. As long as you are complying with the intent of the standard and continually improving, you are correct. So, don’t let the Auditor scare you. Challenge the Auditor if need be. If the Auditor is right, he/she will have no problem pointing you to the relevant clause of the standard and putting you in your place, too!
That is all very well and good, but what if the Auditor points out an issue that you can’t explain? Say the Auditor asks you a question regarding “Validation of Process for Product and Service Provision,” and you genuinely have no idea what he/she is talking about. In this case I suggest you truly phone (or e-mail or text) a friend, a colleague, or your Consultant, for that matter. If your Consultant is good, he/she will lend a hand in this moment of truth. In fact, if he/she helped with the system, chances are he/she made it easy for you. Perhaps he/she called this clause “Special Processes” (a frequent provision for processes that cannot be readily checked), and you learned about Special Processes but don’t necessarily know what clause it came from. So next time you find yourself in the middle of a tough question, calmly and politely tell the auditor that you will do some research and get back with him/her. As long you can demonstrate proficiency in your own procedures, and your procedures align with the ISO Standard, you will be just fine.
Miriam Boudreaux is the President of Mireaux Management Solutions, a consulting firm headquartered in Houston, TX. Mireaux’s products and services encompass ISO consulting, ISO Training, Internal Auditing, implementation of Web QMS platform and electronic QMS hosting.
To get in touch with Miriam Boudreaux, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.