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​​It's N​ot About the Board, the Executives, or Us

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I’ve done a lot of work around process mapping — analyzing as well as teaching others how to better analyze processes. The approach I use is very hands-on — very “analog” — using poster-size sticky notes, markers, regular-size sticky notes, pen, paper, actually sitting and talking with the people who do the work — you know, the old-fashioned approach to internal audit. It is a time- and resource-heavy process. 

In training, people often tell me they cannot do the work this way. Oh, they have lots of good excuses — the audit department doesn’t have time, the client doesn’t have time, it’s a different approach than the one being used, it “just wouldn’t work here.” (Feel free to include your favorite excuse for why a change cannot be made.) But, one way or the other, they are convinced it will not work in their situation.

I always reply, “Try it. Once you’ve tried it, you can use it, adapt it, or throw it away. But first, try it this way. You may be surprised.”

I can say this with confidence because we used this approach at Farmers Insurance. And it worked. It worked really, really, really well.

I always assumed that one of the big reasons for this success was because the hands-on approach allowed the people being interviewed to have full participation in the process. But recently I realized that, while that was important, it was only part of the picture. You see, this approach does a fine job of resulting in a successful internal audit project. But there was more to our success. We were building raving fans.

The reason this was occurring (the epiphany that has finally come to me many, many, many years later) was that, without realizing what we were doing, our focus during these reviews was less on what we needed and more on what the client needed from this work.

Sure, we were able to document and analyze and evaluate — all the things the audit was supposed to achieve. But that wasn’t our primary focus. Instead, we were more interested in getting the client a picture of the way their work was completed — of getting everyone involved (from clerk to director), of having them be an integral part of the project, and of finding the value they needed from the project.

The relationships we were building, the discussions about what mattered in the work people were doing, the documentation that provided as much or more value to the client than it did internal audit — all of this made the needs of internal audit subservient to those of the client. We got our work done, but we were giving them more than we were getting.

A lot of auditors say their work is for the client. But I would argue that they are not making the client their most important customer. While we can make lots of protestations about working for the stakeholders, the real truth is that our focus for getting work done tends to be on what we need. We document the process, we look for breakdowns, and we evaluate operations, all with a focus on what internal audit needs to complete the assignment, not on what could make life easier for the people in the trenches.

Who should all that work really be for? Internal audit? The C-suite? The executives?

Or should all that work be for the clients — the people we are working with, talking to, spending time with, getting to know?

Sure, we want to keep the board happy, and they have to be a part of why we do the work we do. And an unhappy executive can quickly result in an unhappy (and outsourced) internal audit department. But, if we really want buy-in and acceptance and, from that, a successful audit we have to be doing the work/analysis/evaluation/assessment for the people with whom we are working.

I’d love to tell you we did this all on purpose. I would love to tell you that we were these genius savants who recognized the importance of the relationship between internal audit and its clients. I’d love to tell you that part of the training we put every internal auditor through was to focus on customer needs over internal audit needs. I’d love to tell you all of that. But, it wouldn’t be true. (Heck, we were still calling them auditees.) All I can tell you is that we had developed a mindset of service to the client. And I can tell you the approach to process mapping we used made for a happy convergence of opportunity and approach.

How do your clients perceive you? Worst case, do they see you as someone who just comes in and does the work and skips town? Or do they see you as someone who understands and works with the department? And, even in that case, do they see you as someone who provides value while getting the job done? Or are you someone who does more — someone who provides the client more than they ever expected and, by the way, happens to get the audit done, also?

You want raving fans? You want internal audit to be seen as a valued partner that no one can live without? Quit worrying about what you need and start treating the client like you sincerely care about them above all else.​

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