Audit Interviews – Part 2 of 2

This article is part 2 of an Audit Interviews article that began in my March 2013 newsletter.

INTERVIEW TIPS

As a courtesy, talk first to the manager of the area before talking to employees in the area. Seek the manager’s permission to interview the people. The manager will know their assignments and their availability. Also, don’t forget to include temporary and part-time people in your sample.

Make sure you clearly understand the responses to avoid any errors in making your conclusions. Don’t get sidetracked on minor concerns and miss auditing perhaps more important areas. Make good use of your time. If you request some data be retrieved, continue the audit until the data becomes available. And, watch your manners. Be polite and considerate at all times.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS

A big part of being an auditor is being able to effectively communicate. We talk to people, actively listen, and write reports. We have to clearly express ourselves. With practice, we get better.

People also communicate indirectly through their body language. Be aware of the puzzled look or the defensive posture. But, also be aware of your own body language. You may say the right things to appear neutral, but give away your feelings through a shoulder shrug or eye roll.

You also need to be careful how you speak. It may not be what you say, but how you say it. The inflection and tone can make a world of difference. For example, “Bob, what are you doing?” versus “BOB, WHAT ARE YOU DOING!”

Auditors should use a combination of these communication skills to ensure verbal messages are being translated properly – in both directions.

AUDITEE REACTIONS

It could also be due to a lack of audit experience and the fear of the unknown. The word “audit” does have a negative connotation. If people believe audits make people look bad, trigger punitive actions, and cause extra work – guess what – they may try to delay your appointed audit rounds to reduce your sample size and reported problems.

But, be careful. You may misinterpret innocent behavior as a deliberate scheme to interfere with your audit. Also, remember they have the right to challenge or appeal your findings. Be open-minded. You may be wrong.

AUDITEE TACTICS

When asked to demonstrate an activity, people may spend what appears to extra time showing off their system. The dog and pony show could be to steal time from the audit, or maybe they’re unsure of the level of detail needed, or they’re proud of their work.

Sometimes a person will explain the procedures well beyond what was required to answer your question. Maybe they are conducting a filibuster on the audit floor, or maybe they’re nervous and don’t know when to stop.

If you ask to see a hardcopy record, the person may disappear to retrieve it and leave you waiting. Instead, continue auditing in their absence. Or, go along to observe their records management and pick your own sample.

The auditee may want to argue the practical significance of your finding, in other words, try to talk you out of reporting it. Some people may attempt to influence the audit results through their friendship with you, or by their flattery of your work; a subtle form of a bribe.

In some situations, they may try explain away the nonconformity as a special case, “Never seen it before; doubt it will ever happen again. Let’s move on. What is your next question?”
Another tactic to ensure better audit results is to pre-select a sample of conforming records to examine, or experienced people to interview. You may accept some of their sample to learn the process, but then ask to select your own sample to complete the assessment.

You might encounter someone that claims to know more about the system and the standard than you. They may challenge your knowledge and try to convince you there is no problem. “Trust me, this is not a nonconformity.” Instead, trust yourself, your training, and your experience. But, be open-minded and listen to the person’s argument.

In rare cases, the auditee may try to provoke an argument to disrupt the interview and get you off your game. Stay calm. You are the adult here. If they don’t cooperate, talk to someone else.
Regardless of the tactic, stay focused on the audit objective. Be patient, but firm in handling a difficult situation. Notify the area manager, or the audit program manager, if you need help to resolve an issue.

INTERVIEW BENEFITS

Conducting efficient and effective audit interviews will help your organization verify conformity, evaluate effectiveness, and identify opportunities for improvement.

Audits monitor the management system and its processes, and provide feedback for management review and action. A side benefit is increased employee awareness and focus on process quality. Audit interviews have a positive residual effect.

And, when audits uncover product or process problems that are acted upon, they reduce the risk of quality, environmental, health, and safety issues. Conducting efficient and effective audit interviews is extremely important for a successful audit.

Webinar on Audit Interviews
If you’d like to join the live webinar on Audit Interviews to be taught by Larry Whittington on June 12, 2013, and learn a lot more about conducting interviews, go to this website to register.