One of the most important questions for any internal auditor is, “Do you know who your clients are?” It’s so fundamental that most internal auditors can probably answer in the affirmative. However, there is a related question that, while just as important, is often overlooked: “Do you know them?”
Successful internal auditing requires not only knowing who our clients are, but also building rapport and a mutual understanding with them. It means knowing more than just a name and a title; it requires knowing the person behind that title.
For some people, getting to know clients is easy — especially those with a knack for remembering personal details, which can facilitate relationship building. But not all of us are blessed with that innate talent. The good news is that a simple tool can help.
James Farley was a U.S. postmaster general and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His fame, however, comes from the role he played as President Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager. Farley kept a file on everyone he or Roosevelt met. It included information on their spouses, their children, and anything else he learned from earlier encounters. Whenever people were scheduled to meet again with Roosevelt, Farley would review the files with him. Roosevelt could then enter the meeting with knowledge that would help him build connection and rapport. Farley files are now commonly kept by politicians and businesspeople.
At a former job, without knowing we were doing it, my internal audit staff started building Farley files. When an auditor would meet with a client, we would create a file with information about him or her — name, hobbies, passions, etc. We noted advice for working with these individuals, such as effective conversation starters and how to present information to them, as well as how they felt about internal audit — fan, raving fan, lukewarm, actively hostile, etc.
Sadly, I don’t know if it worked. Not long after we started, I was talking with the human resources (HR) manager and explained our approach. He asked us to stop — and I understand his concerns. After all, HR is responsible for ensuring a lot of regulatory requirements are met when maintaining employee information, particularly when it comes to the security of that information and ensuring it’s not used to support discriminatory practices. But I also think he went overboard. In the world of do-overs, it is something for which I would fight. Even in the short time we started building the files, we found it was a valuable way to record and share the insights we gained about our clients.
Every internal audit department should consider keeping a Farley file. Work with HR to ensure there are no issues. But push to get it done. The better we know the people we work with, the better our work will be.