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
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
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
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?