Tattling during an audit
July 27, 2010 11:01 PM   Subscribe

My department is being audited (by an external company) on a project I spend the majority of my time doing. There are numerous problems with the project. I need advice on how to handle myself in a meeting where I may feel like I am tattling on others.

The good news is that my job is not at risk. My manager and his manager would be at risk of losing their jobs if this went badly according to the office grapevine. I'd feel sorry for them if they did lose their jobs, but I'm not going to lie to protect anybody.

This project is about 75% of my job. My managers have not been helpful with the problems I have encountered. I send emails and bring the issues up in meetings. I am ignored or told they'll get back to me and they don't.

I have a bad feeling that it will come down to me and my peers sitting in a room with our managers and the auditors trying to explain that the problems are due to the poor job they've been doing as managers. If this happens, I don't think I can openly complain about these two while they are sitting there. Even if they aren't in the room, I'm hesitant to share too much for fear it will get back to them and ruin the iffy relationships we currently have.
Please share some tips on how to prepare for this audit!
posted by soelo to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have done quite some audits myself and have been audited. I would recommend three things, which all have to do with staying fact-based.

First, use as much provable facts and documentation as you can (like an e-mail you wrote on day x at y am etc). Auditors need that. This is something you can prepare. Print out all relevant information before you have the interview.
Second, keep it to yourself: don't say: "they didn't write back", but say: "i haven't received a response". Small difference, but great effect.
Third, most important, no judgements, no emotions etc. Whatever you think of it, is not important. Leave that to the auditors. This last point is especially important when it comes to the relationship you have with your managers. If you leave out your own opinion, you'll avoid the tattling.

Hope this was helpful! Good luck
posted by eau79 at 11:35 PM on July 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

eau79 has it. I've also been audited (by the FDA amongst others) and performed audits. Stick to the facts, let the auditors draw conclusions. If they're any good they'll be able to see what works and what doesn't work.
When I used to audit (for Quality Assurance) I always took a process approach. Failings were in the processes, and responsiblity was with the management. Be prepared to explain your processes (eg. The process for raising project issues is X, here is my part of the process, here is my record of this part of the process.)
posted by itsjustanalias at 11:41 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's an auditor's job to ask relevant questions. Your job is to answer them honestly, not to offer additional information in the form of complaints. You don't need to "try to explain" that the problems are due to poor management; all you need to do is answer questions about what you did or did not do and let the auditor work out what's been going wrong. Just stick to the facts. Leave the interpretation of them to the auditor.

Arse covering 101, though, says that you should have a thick stack of email printouts available to you during the audit.
posted by flabdablet at 11:46 PM on July 27, 2010

No matter what you do, your relationship with your managers will suffer. It's them against you. Expect them to lie, to save their career.
And yes, have your printouts ready and do not cast blame. But don't be shocked if afterwards your managers act as though you did cast blame. This will happen even if you acted 100 percent fairly and professionally.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:13 AM on July 28, 2010

The other posters gave good advice on how to respond. I've never been an auditor, but have been in organizations on the receiving end of a variety of types of audits (e.g. performance, financial, security). You didn't say what the scope of the audit is, but here are a couple of observations that may help your stress level.

1. It isn't about your project being in the ditch. Audits are expensive, so you wouldn't use one to try and fix a project. Rather, they are about compliance and are going to either be part of some bigger governance process or perhaps a contractual requirement.

2. Audits have a specific scope. Some or most of the problems you are seeing just may not be of interest to the auditors, if it isn't part of their scope.

3. Audits follow a pattern. There is some set of norms you were supposed to be following and the auditors are looking for evidence to show your organization did or did not do what you were supposed to. Almost always these norms are going to be bigger than one person. So if you get negative audit findings, it is going to be about the organization not implementing or following a process. To give a stupid example, in a security audit the finding wouldn't be "soelo left sensitive material on his desk" but rather that the organization had a clean desk policy that they didn't try to enforce. The findings tend to be a shotgun blast that hits everyone, rather than a rifle bullet that hits an individual.
posted by kovacs at 4:00 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just the facts, ma'am. Stick to 'em like glue. If it doesn't have a document to back it up, leave it out. If a conversation was had, focus on the understanding you walked away from the conversation with, instead of trying to convey actually what was said. For example "after our meeting, based on the conversation we had, I believed that mr. graysuit boss was going to follow up on the third agenda item, although as of today it is still an open issue."

Answer questions directly and do not volunteer any theories or "professional perspective" on why things may have gone wrong. Do not use emotional terms or express any value judgements. Answer every question as though you are projecting it through as positive a prism as possible (as in the "I haven't received a response", that's a great example of the distinction) as though you're giving everyone the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they'll straighten up and fly right tomorrow if things haven't gone well in the past, but obviously, do not lie in any way.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:44 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the advice. It's going to help me deal with both of them in the future.

Apparently the panicky email was all for nothing since someone else will be dealing with the auditors directly. The breathless meeting was not to ask us anything but to show off a report created from some of our data, i.e. mostly a waste of time.
posted by soelo at 7:49 PM on August 11, 2010

The breathless meeting was ... mostly a waste of time

No! Really?

By the way: there's an upside to incompetent managers, which is that they will quite likely turn out to be very competent at keeping auditors away from people who have information that might reflect badly on them. You're unlikely to be pestered.

But do compile that stack of emails.
posted by flabdablet at 3:51 AM on August 14, 2010

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