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New Spaces and New Ways of Thinking About Audit Recommendations​

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​Two weeks ago, I moved into a new office at work. I haven't really started the process of settling into my new space, as I am awaiting file cabinets and office furniture in order to have somewhere to put all of my stuff (I have a lot of stuff). Before this recent move, I was in my old office for just over four years. While four years may not be a lot of time in the marathon of a career, a lot of things can be accumulated over that period.

My office is a paperless office, and we have an audit management system that electronically stores all of our workpaper files. We also use an electronic scheduling system. Come to think about it, nearly everything we do in our office is completed online from expense reports to vacation requests and everything else. With this in mind, it would be conceivable that I don't have a lot of paper files. Sadly, that's far from reality. How many previous versions of a draft training plan are needed, particularly when the actual training was delivered several years ago? Further, do I really need to keep paper copies of resumes from applicants I interviewed several years back when all candidates are entered into our online recruiting system?

As such, one of the things that I want to do as I begin the process of settling in to my new space is to go through some of my things and figure out what I really need to keep versus what I can let go. The challenge becomes trying to do this while staying on top of my regular work responsibilities. Time management experts and other people not directly involved in my situation might suggest that I should simply toss out anything I haven't looked at in the last few years. And while this makes a lot of sense, it is much easier said than done. In reality, I sometimes find it difficult to part with my things. I also know this goes beyond purging what I have today, and finding a way to change some of my work habits so that I don't find myself in the same place four years from now.

As I think about this, it brings to mind what we sometimes face in the internal audit process. Once we identify issues in our audits, it is easy for us to come in as outsiders and make recommendations that seem logical to us. However, it may not always be quite so black and white for those we are auditing. There may be underlying reasons why things were done a certain way, some of which aren't so easy to just simply change. Further, our audit clients have ongoing job responsibilities, which typically don't change just because recommendations are made through the internal audit process. As such, it may not be a matter of merely implementing the recommendations, but rather finding the time to be able to make the identified changes in the course of ongoing work responsibilities. Lastly, our recommendations should not only address the symptoms today, but should also find a way to address the root cause in order to put the right processes in place going forward.

I find that we can best assist our audit clients, and in turn our organizations, if we put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand directly from them the challenges they face. We can then work jointly with them to develop recommendations that are most feasible and reasonable for them to implement. Understanding potential barriers to implementation and helping them identify workarounds to those barriers will go much farther than providing high-level generic recommendations that may not be specific enough or actionable enough to drive changes. In many situations, I find my audit clients know at the highest levels what they need to do; however, the challenge comes in finding a way to make those high-level recommendations actionable.

So, whether you are moving offices, organizing your house, or making audit recommendations, what are you going to do to move away from the "should" to work towards a "how"?

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