An ISO assessment can be a difficult time for anyone, regardless of their experience. This article gives you an insight into what to expect on assessment day.
Every day we deal with many customers going through an ISO assessment. Some customers pass their assessments with flying colours, while others struggle to make it over the line. There will often be findings, but don’t panic; our assessors will ensure you are clear on what needs to be resolved. The critical thing is not to worry if you do have findings, it is not the end of the world, and they can be resolved.
And most importantly, make sure you gain value from the process, get involved and ask lots of questions.
Before the ISO Assessment
The best thing you can do before an ISO assessment is to plan; there are certain activities you should undertake to ensure you are in the best shape possible.
You will have received an audit plan from the lead auditor that outlines the assessment process and which areas will be covered, and at what time. Read this thoroughly, then reread it. Ensure that you understand what is required of you during each assessment stage to avoid surprises for yourself or the ISO auditor. If you don’t understand something, contact them immediately and ask them to explain further or provide some documentation to help with your understanding.
Block your calendar out for the entire assessment period and make sure your staff do the same, especially if the process being assessed is their responsibility. Make everyone aware that you’re going through this process and why it occurs. The auditor will speak to various personnel, so everyone should be prepared.
Tell everyone to be honest, they will be asked questions, and sometimes they will not know the answer. The worst thing they can do is lie as they get caught out. The questions being asked are not there to trick anyone; they are there to gather information, and if you don’t know the answer, just say it. The chances are someone else will know the answer.
During the Assessment
The big day arrives, and your auditor should turn up at least 15 minutes before the planned start time; this allows them to sign in and get set up. If the plan says to start at 9am, don’t turn up yourself at 9am; get in 30 minutes before and settle before they arrive.
A cup of tea or coffee always goes down well, and it gives you both a chance to exchange some pleasantries and become more comfortable.
Interviewing Members of Staff
A large part of an assessment involves other organisation members; the auditor will need to speak to many different people throughout the assessment.
Tell all staff to be open and not be afraid to communicate with auditors. Although this sounds counter-intuitive, having open communication about an issue is actually a very effective way of dealing with it.
If you are currently busy with a client or customer, inform the auditor as soon as possible so they can reschedule you for another time in the day. Auditors are used to rescheduling parts of the assessment.
Although auditors try not to use jargon, sometimes they use terms that are industry standard definitions, but it doesn’t mean that’s what you call them. Tell the assessor if they ask for a document that sounds similar to something you have. For example, if you don’t have a staff manual but have an employee handbook, mention both of these and explain the differences between them.
If you find yourself in an awkward position where it appears that the auditor believes one thing, but you know it as something else, do not be afraid to speak up. Say something along the lines of “I just want to make sure we are on the same page here…”
Do not get stressed or defensive when being questioned about some of the processes you have in place for your business. The assessor is not there to judge whether or not you are an excellent manager; they are simply looking at the systems you have put in place and how effective these are.
Answer questions as precisely as possible and offer examples where necessary, so long as they do not give away any commercially sensitive information. Auditors will not share sensitive data due to confidentiality agreements, but keep it to a minimum.
You Hit a Problem
Auditors understand that sometimes things happen beyond your control, but you must make sure they are aware of it as soon as possible.
Auditors understand that the auditing process can be stressful, especially when new to you. If you get upset or stressed, be sure to take a break. This allows you some time away from the auditor to “reset” yourself and reduce stress. Don’t be afraid to ask for a few minute’s break or some fresh air; it usually does both parties well.
The Human Side
Take breaks when necessary; the auditor will appreciate this just as much as you.
Recognise your limits, and when you need to ask for help, you are permitted to ask for help from another member of the organisation.
Relax and show the auditors that you are working with them!
Keep a sense of humour about the process, no one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes! No question is a stupid question, so don’t be embarrassed if you ask about something that seems obvious. Most auditors are incredibly patient and are there to help you.
Be proactive in seeking resources to help you prepare for assessment, whether it’s other staff members who have faced ISO assessments or blogs like this one.
It is essential to be friendly to your staff during an ISO assessment, as they are just as stressed out about it as you are! A little bit of kindness goes a long way.
Remember that it’s all about you, not them. You need to give the impression that you are confident and capable of running your own management system. The more questions you ask, the more you will get from the ISO assessment.
Auditors don’t expect you to know everything, so ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question. Ask questions if anything is unclear or confusing to ensure you know everything. The worst thing you can do is lie about something as if you get caught, or it’s just a blatant coverup; this will give the impression there are more issues. Some auditees feel they need to tell the auditor what they think they want to hear, even if this is not true.
Answer questions with short, concise answers, and never go overboard with information as it may open up other issues. Some people get too confident and provide more than what is being asked.
Sometimes auditors will ask what may seem an obvious question, but they assess how well you think on your feet.
What happens if you have findings raised?
Try not to worry too much – there is no need to do this; even if you fail an assessment, the auditor will provide you with guidance on what needs improving so that next time you can pass. It is tough to actually “fail” an assessment. Usually, you just need to resolve some issues before certification can be recommended, but you never fail.
If the auditor starts reading something different from your words’ intent, then you need to reword yourself.
Do not be afraid to take notes; noting down issues or comments in your own words will help with later review and actions. Sometimes auditors can technically write things, so notes to support their comments will help your teams understand situations.
Try not to compare your results with others – everyone is different! Just because another business you are aware of is ISO 9001 certified doesn’t mean you are less capable of achieving it. Rarely someone is not able to achieve it. It is also rare not to have some non-conformances – there is no such thing as a perfect business, but if you do have any non-conformances, you must put a plan in place to deal with them.
Learn from your mistakes along the way by analysing your non-conformances and using this information to help shape your future goals and target
At Auva Certification, we are extremely competitive within the industry, and deliver some of the best customer service and auditing experiences out there. All our auditors are fully trained to have an in-depth knowledge of your industry, local compliance laws and regulations, and work with businesses of all sizes. If you would like to speak to us about your ISO certification needs, please get in touch!