Question for Auditors - "Off the Record" Conversation?

Mike S.

Happy to be Alive
Trusted Information Resource
#1
When you were performing an audit (1st, 2nd, or 3rd party) have you ever had an auditee or other employee of the organization being audited ask you to have an "off the record" conversation? If so, what happened, and what did you do?

I've had it happen a few times.

For example, I once had an auditee say, "Look, you didn't hear this from me, but Mr. So-and-So (a member of Top Management) ordered us to send you parts even though we knew they were bad so we could meet our monthly shipping goal. But you can't tell anyone I told you or I'd get fired." This was totally believable because we had indeed just received parts shipped on the last day of the month that were very obviously defective.

I'd be interested in hearing others' stories and/or thoughts on this.
 
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Miner

Forum Moderator
Staff member
Admin
#2
I am not an auditor, but have been through many audits. You have a legitimate reason (you received defective parts) to audit those specific areas of the QMS more intensely. The records may show a gap or may lead you toward management. You definitely should not confront the manager directly based on the conversation, but could uncover objective evidence that shows the truth.
 

blackholequasar

Involved In Discussions
#3
I've been on both sides of this!

As a baby quality professional, I've worked at a company that made medical devices. The owner told us "just send them all, they can send back the rejects. We don't have time to rework it" and I was floored. This happened a few times, which prompted me to leave the company.

Later on, as an auditor, I have been approached by employees who have told me very much the same as the example you've given. This is very unfortunately a part of manufacturing at a lot of places - they need to make their money, they need to meet their deadlines. There are OBVIOUSLY gaps in the process that allow this to go through. Searching RMAs, I've found, can show an indication of how frequently this sort of thing happens. When an employee tells me something "off the record", I just keep it at the back of my mind as I look at processes. If there is truly a failure in the process, I hope that it will be found during auditing. (That's why we audit) It doesn't always work this way. There is also a chance/risk that you have a disgruntled employee who is mad at the processes they have to endure; but the chance of that is lower comparatively, I find.
 

Ed Panek

QA RA Small Med Dev Company
Trusted Information Resource
#4
Funny story time- I was in the Navy fresh out of C school. On my first ship, we had a security drill where a security alert would be randomly called. Member of the security team would head to the ship's gun locker, sign out weapons and ammo and then respond to wherever the alert stated. Our Chief knowing we would probably screw it up went to the gun locker in advance and placed all guns and ammo in our workspace. The alert went out, we moved 5 feet and grabbed guns and ammo and responded to the alert.

During debrief, one of the auditors evaluating us asked me what I did. I told him I grabbed the weapons from my workspace. BIG MISTAKE. My chief
shot daggers from his eyes at me.

I think its important to understand the spirit of audits and not just the letter. If the parts were used to meet some shipping goal then the spirit of a QMS is diminished in meaning.
 

normzone

Trusted Information Resource
#5
The story is a sad one, but not uncommon. Influences include the nature of the deliverable and the consequences of non-compliant deliverables in the supply chain.

I worked briefly for an outfit that experienced a factional coup - the "lets get better organized and improve this place" group that hired me was supplanted by the "just ship anything for the numbers" faction. In the short term the numbers looked good, but you know the long term consequences.

When I first began there, a certain production supervisor was pointed out to me and I was cautioned that he would slap an "inspected and accepted" sticker on any product he could access, regardless of it's status or level of completion, and ship it off. When the coup went down he was made Quality Manager. Of course, my tenure there was brief after that.

My point is that such audit trails may not lead directly to top management, but they should be followed as appropriate. The trail may only lead to a dead end, but those making the decisions hear the bullet whiz overhead.
 

Sidney Vianna

Post Responsibly
Staff member
Admin
#6
For example, I once had an auditee say, "Look, you didn't hear this from me, but Mr. So-and-So (a member of Top Management) ordered us to send you parts even though we knew they were bad so we could meet our monthly shipping goal. But you can't tell anyone I told you or I'd get fired." This was totally believable because we had indeed just received parts shipped on the last day of the month that were very obviously defective.
My point is that such audit trails may not lead directly to top management, but they should be followed as appropriate. The trail may only lead to a dead end, but those making the decisions hear the bullet whiz overhead.
I'd be interested in hearing others' stories and/or thoughts on this.
The thing is: you can't unring the bell. Once you know you are dealing with an unethical supplier, you MUST either find another one or take concrete actions to stop the behavior. AS9100 has a requirement that mandates the organization to create awareness of the importance of ethical behavior. A scenario such as this gives the organization a chance to show if they are serious about that, or not. If I knew of a supplier who willfully shipped non conforming products, I would demand robust corrective actions and grill the supplier who tries to BS the root cause analysis. Without snitching on the whistleblower source, I would rake them over the coals and make the whole RCA/CA process as uncomfortable as possible for this supplier.

At the end of the day, one must decide: is it worth doing business with a supplier that has questionable ethics?
 

Mike S.

Happy to be Alive
Trusted Information Resource
#7
The thing is: you can't unring the bell. Once you know you are dealing with an unethical supplier, you MUST either find another one or take concrete actions to stop the behavior. AS9100 has a requirement that mandates the organization to create awareness of the importance of ethical behavior. A scenario such as this gives the organization a chance to show if they are serious about that, or not. If I knew of a supplier who willfully shipped non conforming products, I would demand robust corrective actions and grill the supplier who tries to BS the root cause analysis. Without snitching on the whistleblower source, I would rake them over the coals and make the whole RCA/CA process as uncomfortable as possible for this supplier.

At the end of the day, one must decide: is it worthy doing business with a supplier that has questionable ethics?
We did indeed work toward replacing this supplier, but at the time they were the only authorized supplier and qualifying a new one would take 12-18 months and hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the interim, we had to do other things to protect ourselves and our end customer as best we could.

I think the employee who told me this was trying to be ethical without losing his job.
 

normzone

Trusted Information Resource
#8
" I think the employee who told me this was trying to be ethical without losing his job. "

Yeah, that whole "needing to eat" thing has driven me to accept some interesting positions over the years. Add to that the fact that I've gotten accustomed to sleeping in the same place on a regular basis.
 
#9
Great thread. Always make an internal note when these comments come up, and as said prior, follow the trails. Remember the statement is just an opinion until the audit trail uncovers actual evidence of nonconformance or lack of evidence of control.
 
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