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​​Eight Words Internal Audit Should Kick Out - The First Two​

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Internal auditors do a lot of talking. It is a requirement of our profession. We also do a lot of writing. Again, kind of required to get things done. And, surprise, surprise, surprise, quality communication is a fundamental key to our success. But, perhaps because we do so much talking and writing and communicating, we fall into some pretty ugly traps. Some of those mistakes are real obvious; others are insidiously hidden.

The only way to avoid those mistakes, traps, pitfalls, and blunders is to step back every once in a while and do a little evaluation of the communicating we are doing. With that in mind, allow me to provide my own input regarding your communications. In particular, allow me to provide a list of words I think all internal auditors should no longer use. To quote James Cordon (from late night television), "We're going to kick 'em out!"

(Note: I've already gone off on some of these in the past. But they are points worth repeating. And, perhaps more importantly, they are words that are NOT worth repeating)

Let's start off with an easy one

Auditee: (Okay, I admit, this one is a little obvious, but we have to start somewhere.)

I use it, you use it, almost every internal auditor in the world uses it. It is habit — a short hand way of referring to our customers. And we really need to quit using that word, whether we are talking to someone outside the department or just doing a little internal communication.

In a new auditor seminar, I had someone ask me "Why do you keep saying customer or client? Why don't you just call them auditees? That's what they are." While it may have been surprising that a new auditor was already thinking this way, the more surprising aspect was that her background was Human Resources. You would think that someone from Human Resources, perhaps more than any other department, would have some understanding of how words can impact people.

Because that is the problem with this word. "Auditee" carries far too many negative connotations. In fact, the minute we use the word we are implying that we are about to do something to someone rather than with someone. And it implies that we are in charge of that part of the customer's life — that we are the doer and they are the doee.

It is not a good word, and it carries a lot of baggage. And every time we use it, even when we are just talking among ourselves, we revert, just a little bit, to the bad old days of auditing.

A cliché from a time when auditing was quill pens, abacuses, and bayonets.

Kick it out!

And while we're at it…


Audited: (As in we audited your operation or we are going to audit your operation or we are here to conduct an audit of your operation or any of the myriad other phrases where the words audit or audited are used to indicate we are about to do something to our customer.)

I'm willing to bet this pops up a whole lot more than "auditee" because I don't think we've really thought about the word — what it means and how it feels to others when we use it. Maybe more irritatingly than "auditee," being audited brings to mind painful experiences such as failing tests and jail time and speaking in public and dentist's drills and other occurrences that push, prod or probe us publicly and privately.

Here's an interesting side-fact for you. Do you know that, while The IIA's International Professional Practices Framework defines such words and phrases as internal audit activity, risk, governance, and even should, there is no definition for audit. And I think that is because audit is a nebulous term that can be defined too many ways. So, when we fall back on its use, it can far too easily be inferred that we really don't understand what work we are trying to do.

Call it a review, an attestation, a consultation, an analysis. Call it some name that provides a better explanation of the work we are about to do. Call it anything but an audit.

Kick it out!


Okay, as I noted at the beginning, we started with a couple of easy ones. Tomorrow we'll begin digging into some words that may not be quite so obviously a problem and, in the process, talk about simplifying speech while making sure we understand the words we actually use.

In the meantime, any words you'd already like to add to the list? And why?​


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