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​Internal Auditors Can Learn a Lot From the Wit and Wisdom of Yogi Berra

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This week, America lost one of its true icons with the death of former New York Yankees great Yogi Berra. He was 90. While Yogi was widely known and revered as a player then manager in the world of baseball, he became equally famous for his clever comments, sayings, and double entendres, which became known as "Yogi-isms."

Yogi-isms seemed contradictory or silly on the surface, but they often contained an underlying and powerful message that offered not just levity, but profound wisdom. Journalist and author Allen Barra characterized Berra's quotes as "distilled bits of wisdom which, like good country songs and old John Wayne movies, get to the truth in a hurry."

I first started sharing Yogi-isms in my lectures to internal audit professionals in the 1990s. The quotes often introduced a bit of levity into what many considered serious material. But I found that many of Berra's quotes offered thought-provoking and relevant insight and advice for internal auditors. Upon hearing of his death, I looked back through some of my old materials and identified five Yogi-isms that always will be relevant for our profession:

You can observe a lot by watching. So often, as internal auditors, we have our heads down and our pens to paper. We studiously follow a predetermined audit plan without ever stepping back during the course of an audit to assess the environment and culture of the organization we are auditing. We really can observe a lot by watching.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. This is one of my favorite Yogi-isms, because it is so true. Over the years, a lot of theory and doctrine have been compiled on the practice of internal auditing. Freshly minted internal auditors often spend days or weeks immersed in their departments' policies and procedures, or learning The IIA's Standards before undertaking their first audit. Then reality sets in when they start their first audit. Theory is important, but there is no substitute for practical experience — particularly where interaction with people is concerned.

If you ask me anything I don't know, I'm not going to answer. So often during the course of an internal audit, we become frustrated that those we interview are not giving us the answers we think they should. We sometimes assume they are stonewalling or hiding something. The simple answer may be that they do not know the answers to our questions, or that they do not understand their processes or c​ontrols. We must be open to all possibilities.

It's like déjà vu all over again. I cannot recall the number of times when I went back into a business unit to conduct an audit, only to find that none of the recommendations from my previous audits had been implemented. I discovered that, for a variety of reasons, management simply had not been able to implement the agreed-upon recommendations, and that my report would be a mirror image of my previous work. It felt like a waste of time to be repeating the same audit and generating the same results.

If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else. This quote is a perfect analogy for the outcome that often befalls internal auditors who undertake an engagement without well-crafted objectives and a comprehensive audit plan. As I noted in my book, Lessons Learned on the Audit Trail, a well-crafted audit plan can keep you focused and help you to avoid unnecessary detours and dead ends that undermine the timeliness of your work.

There are dozens of other Yogi-isms that are relevant to the daily challenges we face as internal auditors. If you are like me, the quotes I shared have probably brought a smile to your face at first glance, only to be followed by a knowing nod as you contemplated the deeper meaning.

One last Yogi-ism that I find particularly relevant this week: The future ain't what it used to be. Without fresh wit and wisdom from Yogi Berra, truer words were never spoken.

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