​Finding Someone Else to Blame​

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Here’s what drives me crazy about some internal auditors …

Wait, that comes off a little mean. Let me try this another way.

I was at a conference earlier this month — The Conference That Counts — in Albany, N.Y. (This is an annual, three-day conference where the chapter does a great job of responding to the educational and training needs of auditors in the area. If you happen to be nearby at the appropriate time, you might want to carve out some time to join in.)

At the beginning of the second day, I was ingesting my first shots of caffeine when I happened to overhear two auditors complaining.

(“Happened to overhear.” I’m an auditor. I learned at an early age to eavesdrop and make it seem like pure happenstance. I can also read upside down. That is, I can read print that is upside down, not read while I am upside down.)

The two were complaining because, the day before, track one of the conference had been held in the room around which we were congregating. For day two, tracks one and two had (oh, the horror) switched rooms.

I will pause to allow you to compose yourself, grab a little smelling salts to relieve the vapors, and gather together any items you have found which have caused themselves to be bunched.

The two auditors were truly upset about the turn of events, spending quite a bit of morning vitriol on the subject, and were lamenting that no one had warned anyone that the track they were on would be held in a different room. Never mind that neither session had started, there was a sign in front of the room announcing the session along with the track number, and that these two had figured out which room to enter without the embarrassment of having to sneak out once the session started when they realized they were in the wrong room.

It reminds me of something Harlan Ellison once said that I am going to horribly mangle because, even after searching my archives, I can’t find the actual quote. You can warn people by anno​uncing for an entire week, “This Friday, the abyss will open and you should avoid this area” in flashing, bold letters, but someone will still fall in while shouting “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

Another quick story from the same conference. I also overheard (there’s that word again) someone telling the story of a lady who sat in the wrong session all morning assuming the speaker she had come to see would be arriving at some point. It apparently did not cross her mind to wonder why the speaker hadn’t started or why the session had a completely different title.

Look, I know this is the kind of thing that happens at conferences, meetings, seminars, etc. But here’s what really bothered me.

We are internal auditors. We purport to have brains that we try to keep engaged as we ply the crafts of critical thinking and logical thought. And we are constantly describing our desire to have a seat at the table, to be a partner to the business, to be an incubator of talent, to be agents of change, to be seen as important professionals within our organizations.

And we can’t even go to the right room for a conference.

No wait, that isn’t the issue. The problem is that we want to be all that, yet we are convinced it is someone else’s fault that we went to the wrong room for a conference.

See, that’s that part that really grinds my gear. It’s not that mistakes were made. It is that it was someone else’s fault. The signs weren’t big enough, “they” made changes I didn’t expect. I was not spoon-fed the information in a way where no mistakes might be made.

Auditors are about professionalism, ethics, knowledge, and a raft of other skills and talents. But in amongst it all is another real important one: personal responsibility.

Yes, this happens anywhere, anytime, with anybody. But I like to think internal audit professionals are better; I like to think we ​…

Look, I suppose that the thing that drives me crazy about these two stories is really my own fault. I have pride in the profession. And I believe we are (or should be) made up of some of the top professionals of any kind. I expect that, if we are able to work our way through an audit in a professional and intelligent manner, we should be able to figure out the intricacies of a conference without resorting to blaming the planners for our own mistakes.​

Not being sure what else to do with all this that I am telling you, I guess I’ll just make it a cautionary tale. Look around. Are you surrounded by audit professionals, or just auditors? Are you meeting and talking with audit professionals, or just auditors? And, look in the mirror. Which one do you see.

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