Ethics and Integrity is the choice between what’s convenient and what’s right. Reinforcing good execution and behavior of any organization relies on an auditor to confront poor execution and behavior and endorse proper and conforming behavior, and not simply “look the other way” when pressured from above or by budget. If you wish to perform a value-added service with your audits and report, you have a duty to utilize ethical practices in your audits, for the good of your own reputation, and the good of the company paying you to audit their work.
Ethics is a personal choice, it’s a personal compass that dictates right from wrong but unfortunately, it’s not always common sense. Being an auditor, you may face scenarios where you can’t always tell which choice is right, which choice is easy, and which choice will let you keep your clients happy. The issue stems from a bias in the industry that is hard to avoid. The people you audit are paying you, and therefore hold power over you as an auditor or a Certification Body to produce favorable results or they will jump ship to another provider. While this is an industry norm, it still produces scenarios where the potential for “letting something slide” is easily allowed. This, however, is not ethical and tarnishes the whole perceived image of certified entities.
Auditors can understand different business needs, the requirements of the standard, and the best possible person to rely on to ensure a company is running an effective business according to the standard. To fill these criteria, an auditor must be honest and have integrity. They must be fair and trustworthy, and willing to be “the bad guy”. They must have the ability to push through difficult situations and then work with people in a constructive manner.
Qualities of an Ethical Auditor
Being honest should be any professional’s main building block. Being honest is the foundation of any working professional that will help foster trust between you and a client, supplier, or in any relationship, professional, or not. Consider the consumer pipeline, and you as an auditor are the “product” to be sold to a customer. A customer must first learn of you and an option to “purchase”, they have a need of an auditor. Perhaps they learn about you from an online directory like ISOUpdate, or from a Google search and find your website or referral. They must first trust that what you say is true, i.e., your experience level, your industry codes, etc. This is where your honesty as a business professional will shine. What is said about you in customer referrals, testimonials, and word of mouth statements is often out of your control. But honesty is in your control. By providing a service that is honest – from what you charge, to what you provide, and if you follow through on the claims you make – you will cause customers to be delighted by your services and offer your praises to others.
To elaborate on a point above, to ensure you are honest is to follow through on the claims you make. Following through on promises is an essential way to prove your honesty. The cliché to consider here is “under-promise, over-deliver”. While we do not encourage using this approach every time, as it can set unreasonable expectations in the long run, we do encourage you to be mindful of your capabilities. Be honest with your clients, and they will have more respect and trust in you.
A good auditor will always look thoroughly into the matter before forming any opinion, clearing any biases and not allowing experience to cloud judgment. While all bias cannot be removed due to the transactional relationship between auditor and auditee, it can be neutralized. If you are an internal auditor, that is an auditor who works within the organization and with your peers on a daily basis, consider how you can make the audit process easier and less stressful. Leading up to the audit, inform your peers of the dates that they will be audited, and inform them of what to expect. You are preparing them for the certification audit, which will be conducted by a third-party auditor who won’t be you, so tell them what to expect, and most importantly, not to worry or hide information. By alleviating some of the stress of being audited, and having everyone prepared, you will be able to audit more successfully and without resistance, allowing for an accurate picture of the organization, its shortcomings, and its successes.
This is where companies will truly see the value-add to the audit and certification process. If the organization isn’t showcasing the true nature of their shortcomings, you are not going to be able to get to the root of their system, and they will continue to falter. Here is where it is also helpful to have a relationship built on trust and honesty, allowing you to do your job to the best of your abilities.
As an auditor, you have been commissioned to evaluate a company’s systems against a specific standard. You only have a limited time to sample the largest picture possible and evaluate if the organization is successfully following the requirements of the standard, is aware of and working towards improving aspects of their system that aren’t compliant, and is striving towards improvement. You might be a single auditor or part of a team of auditors, but regardless, it is not possible to see the whole system in one day. This is where pre-planning your audit objectives and sticking to those objectives is essential. Each audit will start with the scope of the audit being set and reviewed in the opening meeting. Do not stray from these objectives unless unforeseen circumstances arise. Sticking to your plan will help foster trust and create a much-needed sense of security between you and the organization.
Timeliness also falls within the qualities of honesty and objectivity. Promptness, punctuality, and professionalism are the 3 major ”Ps” that perfectly encapsulate the qualities of a good auditor. Set your objectives, be mindful of the time you have available, be prompt and punctual with the time you promised, and be professional with every interaction you have. You are being paid to conduct an audit and provide an accurate report; follow through with your objectives and return your report within a reasonable time so the organization can begin to make changes based on it.
If you bring clarity to a situation, you help people see what really happened by clearing up misunderstandings and providing explanations. You may hear this a lot, but use plain language whenever possible. You may be speaking to veterans in the standards industry or you may be speaking with someone who’s never heard of ISO before, regardless, you should be treating every room with the same expectations. Speak to be understood, not to seem superior or knowledgeable. There is no harm in asking the people you audit their knowledge level if you do it with respect.
Expanding on the above qualities, be clear about your objectives and provide an Audit Plan that is clear and transparent about your audit goals and your expectations. You may also want to start off each new relationship within an organization with a meeting that states your auditing style, reviews the audit process, outlines when they can expect reports and final documents, and how you will present findings. By clearing up any initial questions or concerns a client or auditee may have from the beginning of the process, you can foster a relationship of trust and respect.
Keep your word…. it takes a strong character to keep your word, even more so when someone treats you poorly. Do not let biases or circumstances outside of the client’s control affect what you promised. If the need occurs, be honest and ask for their understanding, but deliver what you promised within a reasonable timeframe. Delivering on what you promised shows integrity and trustworthiness. Not delivering on promises showcases a lack of organization, time management skills, and a personal lack of ethics. Keeping your word is one of the smallest yet most impactful things you can do to build trust in your audit. If you want to establish a solid reputation you must deliver on your promises.
When you make a commitment you create hope, and when you keep it you create trust. An ethical auditor stays loyal to what they promise to deliver. Nothing in the world says more about your work ethic than your commitment to your work. Stay true to your objectives, your schedule, and your timelines and you will reap the benefits of happy customers.
Pay Attention the Environment
To be at the top of your game you must be vigilant and observant and must have a tight grip on your environment. Sometimes the answer is right there in front of your eyes, all you must do is pay attention and heed what you perceive. As an auditor, this may be second nature within an audit, but this also applies to auditing yourself, your shortcomings, and your ethical practices within your own work. Hold yourself to the same standard you audit against, evaluate your processes, your review processes, and your improvement needs and objectives. You may have been doing this for years, and you may have found the perfect way to do things, but change is the only constant, and there is always room to grow, even within yourself.
To the novice quality manager, ISO jargon can be extremely overwhelming. What is an NCR? What do you mean by OFI? Are we certified or accredited? But before you go and pull out your hair, let’s take a moment to go over some of the most frequently used terms and their definitions with regards to ISO and Management System Certification.