Carrying out an audit
A good auditor spends time planning and preparing for their audit (see article How to plan and run a smooth audit) but it is also critical to consider your personal style when approaching an auditee. As we all know human beings do not behave in the same way so an auditor needs to adapt their approach to be able to engage with the auditee and get appropriate and timely information resulting in an audit report that adds value to their organisation.
As an auditor I need to feel confident that I have thought through a number of items. So, what do I need to consider?
- Make sure you have read all documents you are auditing against to familiarise yourself with the process.
- Auditor’s work documents, with questions/prompts are complete.
- Determine if you need a ‘subject matter expert’ for part of your audit.
- Is there a need for a translator or any other support required?
- Find out what the audit environment is like e.g. auditing outside, in a noisy location, in an office where the auditee can be overheard etc.
- Is a guide required to escort me around the premises?
- Do I need to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and do I have to provide this?
- Is a safety/induction required prior to me starting the audit?
- Is travel involved during the audit which will need to be factored into the planning?
- If I need to take photos or take samples of evidence where do I get approval?
- Is there space available, if auditing off-site, to use for summarising audit progress?
Having the appropriate interpersonal skills is ‘essential’ for the audit to be successful. All auditors have their own preferred style which makes life so interesting but know what your style is and check before each audit if it is appropriate for that particular auditee. The following are some communication tips:
- Use language and terminology the auditee will understand. Remember effective communication is achieved when a message is both received and understood. You may be familiar with, for example, audit terminology the auditee may not. Also, use terminology the auditee uses during the course of their work.
- Many communication problems can be directly attributed to misunderstandings and inaccuracies. To overcome this use feedback or reflective/summarising questions to ensure both you, as the auditor, and the auditee have understood each other.
- It isn’t only words that convey a message; body language can speak louder than words. As an auditor you need to be mindful of appropriate eye contact, body posture, physical proximity to an auditee etc. So, practice talking in front of a mirror and watching your movements.
- Your dress code for an audit could impact on an auditee, for example, wearing clothes suitable for the corporate office at a work site may intimidate an auditee and they could ‘clam-up’ during the audit. The reverse can be said if an auditor turns up to corporate head office in work clothing suitable for remote sites/outdoor work. It can be seen as not being professional and therefore the auditee will be reluctant to speak with you.
- Taking notes to record your evidence can put a barrier between you and the auditee. Explain this process and why it is very important you record information to reflect the status of a process and that this information will be summarised in your audit report.
An audit doesn’t always go according to plan and sometime during our auditing career will we come across auditees who are reluctant to participate in an audit are nervous, and very rarely find some who are rude about the whole process. It is your job as an auditor to manage potential conflict situations and to reinforce that you are there to audit the process not the individual.
Conflict situations can arise from any one of the following:
- The way an auditor come across to the auditee e.g. arrogant, not listening, using language an auditee doesn’t understand.
- The actual audit, which is making the auditee nervous or non-communicative.
- The consequences of the audit, that is, “what happens if I fail”?
Any of the above points, if not handled appropriately by the auditor, has the potential to cause conflict. The following are some tips on how to manage potential conflict:
- Take time out.
- Talk about something other than the audit.
- Check with the auditee that the time put aside for the audit is still ok. For example other work issues, pressures or meetings haven’t suddenly emerged which could impact on what you as the auditor can view (time constraints) and the attention the auditee will give you.
- Step out of the emotion and concentrate on the process.
N. B. You will work out your own way to handle difficult situations but remember as auditors we are professional, ethical and we have integrity.
Final words of support
To be selected as an auditor you have demonstrated certain qualities for example technical knowledge and expertise, ethical, open minded, diplomatic amongst other things. If you apply all these positives your reputation as an auditor will be one of respect and auditees will want to work with you to together continually improve your organisation.