by Christopher Paris

Back when the US accreditation body RAB was found to be sitting on a big, fat conflict of interest by simultaneously certifying auditors as well as accrediting ISO 9001 registrars, the organization was split into two bodies, ANAB (the accreditation body), with the auditor certification sold off to Michael Carmody and turned into RABQSA. The behind-the-scenes rationale for that are the stuff of another piece, but the short version is that Carmody shoved his way into the scene by brute force and by will of his famously, umm…. “intense”, shall we say, personality. ANAB made a smart move: they became better for the loss, and saddled RABQSA with a beast of an administrative responsibility, one that wasn’t making nearly as much money as the registrar accreditation game. Registrars dumped RAB/RABQSA certification as a requirement, and shifted to “internal training programs” instead. ANAB dodged more than one bullet. Not so much luck for RABQSA.

In those days, the web geniuses at the newly-minted RABQSA didn’t realize that their entire website wasn’t protected from Google’s spiders, so all the organization’s minutes for its meetings were publicly posted. This gave an insight into Carmody’s management style, the problems the organization was having getting registrars to sign onto RABQSA certification, as well as their fear and loathing of Oxebridge. You see, we launched a complaint against RABQSA for auto-accepting ASQ Certified Quality Auditors, essentially giving them a leg up over auditors certified by other non-ASQ bodies. We alleged that violated international accreditation agreements, which required RABQSA to have a crosswalk in place defining how ASQ’s CQA body of knowledge complied with RABQSA’s program. As far as Oxebridge and the public knew, this didn’t exist, and Carmody wasn’t producing it. It was a pretty big scandal at the time, although (as I mentioned here), the quality “press” remained silent on the story in public. Carmody scrambled trying to figure out how his meeting minutes were getting leaked (sue Google, not us), while dragging his feet for months and delaying a response to our complaint, or release of the crosswalk. It got so bad, we had to escalate it to RABQSA’s accreditation body, JAS-ANZ, which later apparently “lost” the complaint and never responded at all. Right.

(An aside: Carmody recently stepped down from RABQSA. They still haven’t announced a successor, and I don’t doubt that part of it is that the best candidates are smart enough to stay away. Cue Kate Winslet bemoaning the pending iceberg and lack of life boats.)

Psychometric Psychobabble

Then suddenly the missing crosswalk showed up, closing the issue. Had Carmody presented it up front, it would have never dragged on for months, and he could have saved himself a few dozen bottles of antacid. I am still of the personal opinion that RABQSA never had the crosswalk to begin with, that the time spent was used to develop it after the fact, and that the corrupt JAS-ANZ was in on the scam from the beginning. But what do I know?

(An IAF authority at the time agreed that JAS-ANZ was “negligent” in its duties in processing the complaint, but we let it drop. The horse was dead.)

At the time, though, one of my personal gripes against the new RABQSA auditor certification scheme was its use of “psychometric” personality testing through PAAS Master, which I alleged would eventually result in RABQSA getting sued for discrimination. The tests attempt to determine if an auditor’s personality is “not quite right” (my words) for the job. Questionable (failing?) results on PAAS Master meant you had to undergo a special interview with a RABQSA official to determine if you were suited for auditing, akin to being sent to the principal’s office for bullying, but if the principal was Jigsaw. Anyone who has met an ISO 9001 auditor knows the tests don’t work – see my other posts about auditor behavior, including drunken antics, sexist rants, and intellectual property theft.

But the bigger problem was that it could unfairly discriminate against an otherwise suitable auditor candidate, perhaps on the basis of race (would Australian testing criteria really “get” Chinese social culture?) or non-disabling mental health issue, such as someone on the milder side of the autism spectrum, or an individual with Attention Deficit Disorder. Such an auditor may not be the best dirty-joke-teller, but he or she would probably be a better auditor. Folks with ADD have been told they are often better workers because of their natural ability to multitask. I warned back then of a lawsuit by ADA, and even cited cases in Europe where unions successfully challenged such testing as illegal, and won.

The thing is, psychometric testing was totally unnecessary, as the new ISO 17024 personnel certification standard emphasized competence, not warm-and-fuzziness. Again, the only explanation for intentionally putting RABQSA’s head in the lion’s mouth with psychometric testing was if it had some stake in the testing company. Makes sense.

ACLU… Meet RABQSA

Today we read the ACLU has filed suit against pharmacy giant CVS for its use of personality testing on ADA grounds.

The CVS case could be the tip of an iceberg. The growing use of such tests so early in the hiring process is relatively uncharted ground, and could hurt people with mental disorders, depending on the questions asked, legal and human resource experts note.

To be fair, as someone who ditched auditor certification after the fiasco with Carmody — if I wanted to spend money on blowhards, I’d invest in steampipes — I haven’t kept up on what the organization is requiring these days. Their website, which is almost un-navigable, doesn’t offer much insight either, as some pages still indicate that PAAS Master testing is required, while auditor certification documents (PDF) don’t mention it at all. So maybe it’s all moot. Maybe not.

The test entry page itself says that PAAS Master “has been developed in cooperation with BusinessPulse International”, which I am pretty sure isn’t true, but that it was developed by a different entity back then, and BusinessPulse took it over later. Either way, there’s something fishy about an ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 auditor certification psychometric test being developed by an ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 consultant. No smoking gun, but one has to wonder if their consultants are certified to the credential they helped write.

But then again, Oxebridge has flirted on and off with developing its own ISO 17024 accredited auditor training program to compete with RABQSA, which — given the grumbling by registrars behind closed doors — couldn’t fare worse. For now, the dollars just aren’t there to make it a worthwhile operation.

If RABQSA hasn’t formally ditched its psychometric testing (and if it did, it certainly did so quietly), then it remains a big, fat target for the ACLU or some band of enterprising lawyers. Whether you feel RABQSA needs a wakeup call that its auditor training is sub-par at best, negligent at worst, is up to you. But I think most ISO 9001 end users would agree that their something is very much wrong with auditor training.

Personality testing doesn’t work, it can’t work, and it should be illegal. It’s just a matter of time before it is.

Christopher Paris is VP Operations and founder of Oxebridge Quality Resources International, and an investor in steampipes.

About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.

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