Three Rules for Internal Auditors​

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I really thought I was done with this whole rules/standards/common sense/status quo/change discussion after my post earlier this week. My intent when I started this series was to wind up talking about individual auditors taking responsibility for their own profession.

But then a friend of mine, Don Levonius, put a post on LinkedIn that made me realize we needed to take one more visit to the topic. He posted “The Nordstrom Rule.”

Now, in case you haven’t heard of it, the Nordstrom rule refers to Nordstrom’s employee handbook which states, “We have only one rule: Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”

At least, that’s the version I found. If you look around the internet, you will see various variations out there. (There is also this excellent article ​from CBS which points out that, while a good story, it may not be the complete truth.) Whatever the case, this all points to the basic culture of Nordstrom’s – that employees are trusted to do the right thing.

Whether the Nordstrom rule is a real thing, no matter what it exactly says, no matter what the specific details are, none of this is as important as the sheer persistence of the story. And that persistence reveals how much we all want to trust those who work for us, and how much we want to be trusted.

“Use your good judgement.”

I once got into an interesting debate with a former co-worker about this very quote. I proposed that internal audit could be just as successful – maybe more successful – if we would adopt only this concept.

Actually, as we went along, I added one more to it. (I’m an auditor. I’m just like you. I can’t help but monkey with things even when they are pretty darned good.) I threw in a bit of the Hippocratic oath. “First, do no harm.” (I probably went that direction because I’ve seen too many auditors, in the name of being professionals, do unnecessary harm. Long stories that are best saved for later dates.)

Look, I know we need rules and policies and procedures and standards and IPPFs and all the other bells, whistles, and geegaws that help ensure compliance and standardization. But what if, rather than using any of these, our profession stated it simply.

First: Do no harm.

Second: Use your good judgement in all situations.

And let me throw in a third one. Do all this with your brain somewhere near you.

If we could just be the kind of auditors who embody these principles, wouldn’t we be a profession that was head and shoulders above all the rest?

And while we’re at it, if we practiced these same principles as human beings, maybe everything could be made just a little bit better.

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