Towards the end of a closing meeting, I often recommend the organisation takes time to celebrate.  It’s not a big thing, really but sometimes when I make this sort of recommendation, it triggers another level of conversation with the people attending the closing meeting.  At this point, realities are shared about the amount of work that has gone into the audit’s results being what they are and discussions about what is ahead for the organisation to resolve issues or to make further progress.  Every so often, people break down, and we end up hearing about some harrowing experiences since the audit before.  Whether it’s the CEO sharing an experience of previously traumatic audits or whether it’s about a senior staff surviving significant sabotage and bullying, it is truly sobering to hear what some people go through to keep their organisation’s internal quality systems current and operational.  

So often, people think that auditors and assessors have no understanding or appreciation for the behind-the-scenes challenges that can occur for organisations or what it takes to keep the quality management system operating in amongst internal upheaval between one assessment or audit and the next.  A lot can quickly change between reviews, and this can disrupt an organisation’s response towards compliance as well as taking ownership of what it can demonstrate for its internal and external customers.  The reality is that at times like this, competent auditors and assessors often bring out different ‘tools’ that include using more profound levels of emotional intelligence.  This includes being genuinely interested and empathetic, actively listening, being respectful and compassionate to enable staff and Board members to open up and share both the successes and challenges within an audit process.  Similarly, trust is critical in allowing people to talk about the next level of their experience.

I often think this is like moving through the layers of an onion: the outside, the visible layer is what auditors are presented with when they commence an audit and sometimes that is all they see.  However, having genuine and respectful conversations with staff, clients, and Board members can take us all into the next layer of the organisation and its operations.  What helps it to be an effective process is when people see that the auditor is genuine.  As the audit progresses, the auditor might find they are moving into a different level, one where people share insights and experiences that they might not share at any other time.

The progression into a trusting connection is where truly significant work can occur. When people see the auditor working alongside them like a partner, shoulder to shoulder, not judging them but looking at their systems and working out ways to strengthen what is happening while also identifying where compliance needs to be adhered to. This approach works well at any time but more particularly when there has been upheaval and disruption for the organisation in the period since the previous audit.  Partnership moves us all into a different sphere. It provides everyone, auditors included, with the opportunity to examine what they know and what they don’t in a way that contributes towards improved outcomes all round.  In this way, auditors can also provide motivation, positivity and creative, critical thinking skills to the betterment of the organisation being audited.  

Thinking ahead:

1. What happens when your auditor doesn’t connect with you, your staff or your organisation?  How do you manage this? 
2. In what ways do you see the auditor operating as a partner in the audit or assessment process?  Is this something that would add value to your organisation? 
3. What difference would auditors or assessors operating at a deeper and more considered level within the audit process assist you?  Would your organisation be prepared for an auditor to serve in this way?