Allow Yourself to Change Your Mind​​

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The story goes that when John Maynard Keyes was asked about why he switched his position on monetary policy, he replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Now, there is a good chance this story is apocryphal, but it is far too perfect a response to be ignored. Because, for some reason, people are surprised when an individual can obtain new facts and, from those facts, derive an opinion or conclusion that is different than the one that was originally held.

To have new facts and not make a new determination is, at best, short-sighted and, at worst, a recipe for disaster.

Internal auditors approach their clients counting on this common-sense attitude. We recognize that the clients will have an opinion about their processes, so we sometimes (naively) believe that, once we provide facts and evidence that show a different reality than the clients expect, they will happily accept those facts and change their minds.

However, our clients have a vested interested in the way things are being done. Throw in the confrontational approach that comes from telling someone that something is going wrong (no matter how good our relationship and no matter how well we all get along, there is a confrontational element to those meetings — it is the nature of the beast and part of why we have to constantly work on our communication skills, no matter how good we think we are) and the result is resistance, no matter what the facts. The clients do not want to change their minds. And internal audit has to recognize this will happen, and learn to deal with it.

But let’s turn the spotlight around. How often are we so convinced of our correctness that we are deaf to legitimate explanations? And how often are we afraid that a changing of our minds — a changing of our opinions — will tarnish our image? How often do we feel that our reputation as the impeccable internal auditors must be defended to the point where we fight far longer than is prudent?

Here’s a story

We had spent a week conducting an audit of a branch claims office. At the end of a week’s worth of work, we entered the wrap-up meeting with the stack of files we would go through to show the issues we had identified. At the end of the meeting, the stack of incorrectly handled claims was well below half and a significant portion of the findings were no longer relevant.

Good news. We hadn’t written the report yet.

The customer loved it; she had beaten the auditors. And we took it in stride. We knew there are two purposes to a wrap-up meeting. Of course, one is selling the findings. But another, just like every other step in an audit, is ensuring that we have the correct understanding of the situation.

At the end, we didn’t hang our heads in shame because we had been “beaten by the auditee.” We didn’t worry that our credentials had been besmirched. Instead, we saw it as a valuable education about the way claims processes worked. And this client became a big advocate of internal audit because she had seen our commitment to facts and supported conclusions. And she saw that we wanted a real discussion, not just a rubber stamp agreement on what we presented.

To stand by a conclusion, an opinion, or a belief that is contradicted by fact is the epitome of unprofessionalism. We don’t expect it of our clients, and they shouldn’t see it from us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” (There’s a lot more good stuff that follows this line, and I would suggest you read the whole thing.)

When the facts change — when your understanding of the facts change — even if you already have the testing done, even if the report is finished, even if you have reported it to the audit committee, do you allow yourself to change your mind? Or do you stick by your antiquated guns?

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