In case you just tuned in, last week I suggested eight words
internal audit should quit using. As so often happens, I got a bit verbose, so I
split it into three posts — the first two words, the middle three, and the final three.
If you didn’t read those posts, you may want to go back and
get the full picture of why I think these words should all be enshrined in the
Internal Audit Hall of Linguistic Infamy. But here’s a quick recap:
Auditee: A word that has become negative
and degrading, carrying connotations of a history we want to leave behind.
Audited (as in “we audited you”): The
word is used in a way that emphasizes us doing something to the customer,
rather than working together as partners.
Utilize: Communicate more simply. Use
Mitigate: Again, communicate more
simply. “Manage,” not “mitigate.” And make sure everyone knows the meaning of
the words you are using.
Risk: Half of all internal auditors
can’t correctly identify what this means. Ensure everyone involved in conversations
understands what you are talking about.
Effective/Ineffective (a twofer): Overall
opinions have to be expressed in ways that provide more credit and less blame.
Trusted Advisor: Yes, we want to be
trusted. Yes, we want to advise. But we want a more active, impactful role than
this phrase implies.
Value Add: Internal audit has
always added value. Talk in terms of new and better value.
As expected, this generated some interesting conversations. Surprisingly,
the biggest conniptions were thrown around eliminating the word “audit.” Let’s
talk about that one again, because it speaks to some of the reasons all these
words should be considered for elimination.
To repeat, I am not trying to eliminate all uses of the word
“audit” or change the name of the department (I think we’re all kind of stuck
with that one). Rather, I am focusing on “audit” as a verb — particularly when
it is used in terms of doing something to someone. If I say I am going to audit you or even
perform an audit of your operation, there is a connotation that comes very
close to that experienced with the word “auditee.”
And, the other factor in kicking out “audit” has to do with
precision. Audit can mean many things. Instead, when communicating, be as
precise as possible. Is it a review, is it a consulting engagement, is it an
attestation, is it an assurance project, is it any other alternative word
grouping that springs to mind? Any of these will be more precise than “audit.”
We have to think about what we are saying and writing.
The reason any of these eight words should be eliminated is
a combination of negative connotations, impreciseness, and a certain fuzziness
on what each word means. Much of this comes from our constant repetition of
those words. As one commenter noted, the problem may not be with the words; it
may be the frequency of usage. The overuse of any word can bludgeon it into meaningless.
And it is an issue we have to be aware of every time we communicate.
And now, allow me to take a sidetrack. I want to change
directions and add just a little bit of positivity; a bonus; a phrase I think
all auditors should take to heart and use more often.
Okay, I can already hear all the groans. I know it has its
own buzzword challenges. And there is a good chance you hate it as much as any
of the eight words I listed. But I want it used more because we have to embrace
For some reason, many internal auditors seem to think our
job is to maintain organizational status quo. We seem to think the risks we are
trying to keep under control include the risk of allowing change to occur. Good
organizations thrive on change. In fact, good internal audit departments thrive
on change. So, internal audit needs to understand what it means to be a change
agent, to have discussions about being change agents, and then practice change
We now return to the summary of words we should kick out.
Confession. You know as well as I do that we will all keep
using these words. (In fact, I’ll bet you, right now, that I inadvertently use
at least one of them in my next blog post. Won’t even think about; will fall
into the old traps. And let’s not talk about how quickly “auditee” may raise
its ugly head again.) Habits are hard to break. And sometimes it is just too
easy to go with a habit and promise to be better in the future. (Related
question: How are everyone’s New Year’s resolutions going?)
The real point of all this is awareness. We have to be aware
of the words we use — we have to be aware of the clichés that we have overused,
we have to be aware of the impact of seemingly innocuous words, and we have to
be precise in the words we choose.
So, when you are speaking, listen closely as you
talk. And when you are writing (or in those many rewriting session) actually
read the words that you write. And if you catch one of the words you now find
to be offensive … kick it out.