I have a few regrets from my 30-year history with Farmers Insurance internal audit. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great ride. And I wouldn’t be where I am today (wherever that is) if it weren’t for the opportunities and serendipities that occurred throughout my career. But there were moments where, when I look back, I did a little less than shine.
We’ve all been there — the poor decision, the incorrect conclusion, the act that may have, in retrospect, been beneath our standards. We try for the best, but we know we occasionally fall short.
One regret in particular dawned on me recently. During the last few years of my career, the audit department seemed to lose focus on the importance of meeting assigned due dates. We wanted to meet the dates, but we started believing our own excuses for why things could not be done on time. I vividly remember rushing audits to conclusion because we were preparing the quarterly report for the audit committee and had to have something — anything — to say. And every time we reached the end of a mad dash, we recommitted to doing better. Then the
next quarter would arrive, and the same pandemonium reigned.
We often talked about the importance of timeliness, but we never took effective steps to change our processes and start getting the work done on time. And while our work quality had remained adequate, things were beginning to slip. By accepting mediocrity in one area, we were starting to see the impact on others.
We allowed the dates to slip, causing downtimes in the audit schedule. Downtimes negatively impacted the original schedule, and disruption of the schedule meant less time for scheduled audits. Then, because the schedule was impacted, we tried to compensate through better planning. And because of that effort, audit planning became a cottage industry unto itself. Our problem was execution, yet we tried to solve planning issues.
What are you letting slip? Are your reports issued when they were originally planned, or are you buying the excuse that it is just too hard to coordinate the parties involved? Are you identifying true root causes, or are you buying the excuse that there isn’t enough time to develop a broader solution? Are you holding the department to the highest possible standards, or are you buying the excuse that any group of people can only accomplish so much?
And finally, are you fulfilling the promises of the audit profession, or are you buying the excuses that cause you to be second best, constantly promising to do better next time?
There are always excuses. But there are seldom good reasons. And if you are starting to fail — or even starting to accept the most minute of failures — take a look and find the reasons, not the excuses.