Austin Kleon, a self-described "author who draws," recently wrote that he believes people behave as if they have a secret wish to be bored to death. As he explains in a blog post, Kleon imagines people saying, "I want artists to say all the right things. … I want artists to play it safe. I want me and my artists to be best friends forever. I want artists to do and be all of these things and then I want to be allowed to complain how boring art is."
I have always believed that internal audit work is more art than science. Take the audit report. I worked with someone who saw electronic workpapers as the answer to all his report-writing woes. In every meeting about improving either our reports or our workpaper system, he would arrive with suggestions on how to reduce reports to a collection of pull-down menus and buttons — all designed to remove human error from the process. He never said the words, but what he wanted was a fill-in-the-blanks audit report.
Effective audit reports are not a collection of stock phrases and plugged-in data; they are an artfully constructed blend of perfected verbiage, salient points, and appropriate support — all balanced to represent the needs of both internal audit and its stakeholders. Effective report construction is an art.
Likewise, effective completion of an audit project is also an art. And ultimately, the development and maintenance of an effective internal audit department is an art.
With that in mind, reread the quote from Kleon. But this time, wherever the word art appears, replace it with the phrase internal audit.
Many board members, executive managers, and even internal audit leaders don't want anything extraordinary from their audit departments — nothing challenging, nothing outside the box, nothing that might ruffle feathers. They want internal audit to stick to the script, remain predictable, and play it safe at all times. Not surprisingly, these same individuals are among the first to complain they are not getting anything from their internal audit departments — they say that it provides no value, that it represents a drain on the organization, that it is, dare we say, boring.
We accede to their desires at our own peril. If we avoid excitement, if we avoid confrontation, if we avoid the unpredictable, if we avoid risk, and if we worry about maintaining friendships, then we forfeit our right to complain about the results. The minute we think we can fill in the blanks, keep repeating what we've done in the past, and survive by sticking with the status quo is the minute we inevitably become boring.
And if we make internal audit boring, we have no one to blame but ourselves for our ultimate demise. No one needs a boring audit department.