Auditors don’t have the best reputation. Once I travelled to Australia, to speak at a conference about certification in the language industry.

The headlines in the first Aussie newspaper I read in the airplane was about “Stupid Box-Tickers” – about auditors who were involved in a fraud scandal at an Australian university.

I took it with humor – and tried to explain in my talk at the conference, how we can benefit from audits and certification, and why I like it so much being an auditor.

First, I love to create a “safe room” at the very beginning of the audit, when people are nervous and stressed. An audit is kind of an exam, after all. People do not like too much when a stranger puts his or her nose into their business and checks if the way they do business complies with national or international standards. Every non-conformity feels like a mistake, like an embarrassing failure.

To make people understand that an audit – and in particular the auditor – is meant to support, not to criticize them, is the first and essential step to build a good and positive relationship between auditor and auditee who both want to learn and improve. My (verbal and non-verbal) message is: Stay cool and enjoy the process of showing me the great work you are doing every day as a language service provider (LSP).

Without that good and positive relationship, you can not do a good job as an auditor, and you will not benefit much from the audit as an LSP. Your client needs to trust in your competence as auditor, your confidentiality, and in your interest and commitment to quality.

“Stupid box-tickers” are those auditors who are not passionate about quality and the industries they are auditing in. They are easy to cheat, because they only want so see a document for every certification criteria. But quality is not about paper and writing, it is about a living culture of excellence. Of course, it is nice to see when processes are well-described and well-documented. Much more important is, however, to ask people about their work, their challenges and how they meet the needs and demands of their clients.

People tell you the truth only when they trust you. So, the “safe room” I am creating at the beginning of the audit, is the basis of everything. It helps to use humor to make people feel more relaxed and positive about the audit. I am pretty good at that, I guess, from the feedback I get from my clients.

In an audit, people should not feel examined, their work should not be questioned or devaluated, but appreciated and just looked at in comparison with standards requirements.

Asking questions is the main job of an auditor. Simple and clear questions, in a neutral or friendly tone, encouraging the auditee to answer in a clear and simple way. No interrogation, no nagging questions, just asking.

If the auditor is passionate about the language industry, as I am, the Question and Answer (Q&A) session is like a dance, like a beautiful story the LSP is telling the auditor.

“How do you do that? What is the next step? Why do you do that this way?” This type of question is very helpful. No “closed” questions, to be answered only by yes or no. Closed questions do not get us anywhere. Only the auditor has to ask his or herself at the end of the audit, if the certification criteria are met or not, if the way the LSP delivers language services complies with the given standard or not. If not, this is not the end of the world.

There are minor and major deviations – to be fixed in a certain period of time. Minor ones can be looked at during the next surveillance audit. Major deviations have a considerable impact on the quality of the service, and, therefore, have to be fixed before the issue of the certificate, usually within a couple of weeks or months after the audit.

Let me summarize where we got so far:

  • Create a safe room, with trust, good relationship, a relaxed atmosphere, a positive attitude towards the audit and interest in the work of the LSP.
  • Ask simple, open questions related to the certification criteria of the given standard.

Listen carefully, is the next success and fun factor of an enjoyable audit. Do not interrupt people (only in case if they are talking already five minutes about issues not too much related to the standard), combine their answers with related chapters and requirements of the standard.

A good auditor does not go through the checklist with all the boxes to tick right from the beginning of the audit, but at the very end of it. Picking samples of completed or ongoing jobs, and discussing them along the certification criteria, is a much better way to understand how the LSP is working, and if the many steps and parts of the work are compliant with the many requirements of the standard, represented by the various “boxes” to be ticked in the checklist.

Discussing projects is way more interesting for both sides than ticking boxes. Sometimes you can cover 80% of the checklist questions with a randomly picked sample of different jobs the LSP has delivered to his client. If in doubt, just pick another one, another project, another example of how the LSP delivered his language services within the past two years.

At the end of the audit, you do tick the boxes, of course. You have to. But at that stage, most of the questions in the checklist are answered already, so that you can just ask additional questions, if needed, or to be sure that you did not overlook something required in the standard you are auditing.

If you do it this way, an audit is a presentation, where the LSP can showcase his quality services and discuss relevant issues with the auditor, who has to have a background in and a very good understanding of the industry. Otherwise, there is the danger of “stupid box-ticking” without knowing what the auditor is doing.

The moment people get passionate or proud during the audit is the moment I like most.

Once I was asking a young translator from an LSP in an Asian country, what she did first, when she got that very job from the project manager. I got the answer “I was so happy and grateful to be chosen as translator for this job” and a beaming smile. My heart was singing. I was rather expecting an answer like “First, I was analyzing the text, and then…”, but her answer was making me happier, because enthusiasm, pride and passion of an LSP say a lot more about the commitment to quality than a written statement. 

Written statements can be copied from the standard, but they are not necessarily implemented in the daily work and workflows of the people who do the LSP work. Of course, we need both, the standardized, documented procedures, and the commitment and engagement of qualified people who follow these procedures.

However, PEOPLE come always first. Their PERMA-nent work makes sure that the PROCESSES are useful and lived, and that the right TOOLS are selected and used.

PEOPLE – PROCESSES – TOOLS. In this order. And this is why I really LOVE to be an auditor:

I love to meet people from all over the world, I love to listen to them. I love to hear – and watch – how they use their creativity and passion to comply with international standards, how they develop processes that work, and how they make their lives and LSP services easier with appropriate, professional tools.

Enjoy language and the language industry,

wish you all the best,


Director of TermNet
Co-Founder and Lead Auditor of LICS, the Language Industry Certification System,
at Austrian Standards International.

P.S.: What PERMA-nent work means I am going to explain in one of my next blog posts

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