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​The Terror of Being Found Out​​

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It seems like I spend a lot of time talking about why it takes internal auditors so long to get anything done. For example, just last week I was talking about why reports take so long to get issued.

There is no doubt that the type of work we do requires rigor, exactness … time.

But it seems that everywhere I turn, internal auditors are struggling to get work done timely — that is, within the time constraints they have set for themselves.

Not some arbitrary date. No, getting the work done using dates the internal auditors have set for themselves with the idea that it will allow them the time necessary to complete the work while ensuring the results are relevant and actionable.

And that is a scary thought. We can't get the work done in the amount of time we think is necessary.

However, there might be more here than any of us suspected.

I just finished Jon Ronson's excellent book So You've Been Publicly Shamed. Ronson is quickly joining a rather small group of authors — those authors of whom I will read anything they write and will suggest should be read by anyone who is willing to take my advice. (Thus, joining the ranks of Michael Lewis for business writing, Haruki Murakami for fiction, Phillip K. Dick for science fiction, and Harlan Ellison for fiction, science fiction, essay, politics, and, in general, a body of work that is unparalleled. But, back to Ronson.)

The book is fascinating for its exploration of the impact social media has on public shaming, looking at people who have been shamed, some who have done the shaming, and how these people have reacted/picked up the pieces of their lives/survived. It is not just a dry recitation of facts (although they are here in sufficient numbers to support what he has to say, and he has to be doubly careful on that count considering the subject of his second chapter — Jonah Lehrer. Look it up and you'll understand why this is an important point). The book is much more about the exploration of the impact on these people's lives, as well as the author's self-examination.

(Wow, I just explained that really badly. So, ignore me and my description; instead, listen to me and my recommendation.)

In chapter two, he describes a situation where he was telling someone about his research related to Lehrer and the person responded, "It's about the terror, isn't it?" "The terror of what?" Ronson asked. "The terror of being found out," The person replied.

When I talk about internal audit's chronic-delay syndrome, I usually couch it in terms of internal auditors' fear of making mistakes and requiring that everything is perfect before moving forward to the next steps. But this quote adds a new dimension to that fear.

You see, all that resistance to move forward and the underlying fears may well be rooted in something else. Ronson talks about the fear every individual has — to one degree or another — of their secrets being released. And the most universal secret fear for professionals, in my opinion, is that it will be revealed they don't know what they are talking about. Ronson says, "It's just a feeling that at any moment we'll blurt something out during some important meeting that'll prove to everyone that we aren't proper professional people or, in fact, functional human beings."

With absolutely no scientific research to back this up (nothing but a hunch, an itch, a dark suspicion), I think that concept more precisely defines why internal auditors spend so much time trying to get to perfection.

Sure, we don't want to make a mistake. But why don't we want to make a mistake? Sure, it's unprofessional to make mistakes. But is it unprofessional enough to warrant the extra work, rework, and missed milestones?

No, I think a very large hunk of us live in the terror that we will be found out; that all the nasty things they say about us are true. "They're just accountants who couldn't make it." "They're the ones who can't do original work." "They're the rejects fro​m other departments." "They're the ones who don't understand the real world." "They're the ones that are the tattletales." "They're the ones that are nothing but a drain on the bottom line." Of course it isn't true; of course I don't believe it; of course you don't believe it. But the thoughts are out there, and they haunt us.

And that is at the root of every internal auditor's fear, whether we are willing to admit it or not. It is not the mistake; it is that the mistake will make us look unintelligent, unreliable, unprepared, and unprofessional.

Of course, none of those nasty things are true. But I suggest you take a look and determine if the delays that occur in your audit process are related to the process, are related to just not wanting to make errors, or are actually related to that terror — the terror of being found out.​

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