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Too Much of a Good Thing​​

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Two weeks ago, I kind of left everybody hanging. I had written two blog posts (here and here) that discussed potential issues with the way internal auditors identify root causes. My promise in that second post was to follow up with some ideas I had on making root cause analysis more effective by identifying some broad categories to help us develop more impactful root causes — ones that were broad enough to provide answers across the organization, not just in the area under audit.

This blog is not that blog.

A funny thing happened on the way to part 3. Today (Thursday, as I write this), Peter Scott and I have a deadline. We are working on the second edition of the book we published through The IIA — Auditing Social Media. (It should be coming to a bookstore near you [The IIA's] sometime early next year.) We were given plenty of time, and we had quite a few discussions about the content, structure, etc.

Well, anyone who knows me will be glad to regale you with tales evidencing the fact that I have never met a deadline I can't miss. Which should lead you to a pretty obvious conclusion.

The book will not be submitted on time. (To prove the individual's working with us knew what they were getting into, our contact made the following comment when I advised we would be a little late. "I was kinda expecting a little delay." She may have followed it with a smiley emoticon, but I could see and feel the grimace contained within the electronic smile.)

The good news! We will have it to them when they walk into work Monday morning.

But, the upshot is, for the last few weeks I have been doing a whole heck of a lot of typing. 50,000 words don't write themselves. And, even though part of that burden was Pete's, I still had a lot of words, edits, rewrites, and new words to pull together.

Which means, when it came time to think about the latest blog posts, the last thing I wanted to see was a keyboard. My "write, type, read, edit, write, type, read, edit, write, type, read, edit" cycles had been completely burned to a frazzle. There was no way, no matter how much I enjoy writing these blog posts (and, trust me, I really enjoy the time we spend together), I was going to be able to pull coherent thoughts from an incoherent mind and type them through my bloodied, arthritic fingers. (One of the adjectives in that previous sentence is not true. I'll let you play the game of "One of those things is not like the other" in your spare time.)

So, it's a nice story — perhaps it elicited a modicum of sympathy from you, gentle readers — but I do still try and make these things relate to the work and life of internal audit.

A while ago, I was doing training for a group and, every once in a while, I was getting a hint of something interesting sneaking out during our discussions, breakouts, and even breaks and lunch.

What I saw, for lack of a better word, was fatigue.

I began to dig a little deeper and it suddenly smacked me upside the head. This internal audit department was completely burned out. They didn't say it in so many words. But you could tell, as they talked about their processes, their workloads, and the volume of stuff they were getting done, if they were given the choice, they would never again look another audit workpaper in the face as long as they lived.

There were some good auditors in that group. And losing them from the profession would be a shame.

Let's move on to another topic. (Honest, it's related.) More and more, kids are becoming involved in sports at an earlier and earlier age. There is no longer any "season" for kid's sports — at least for any sport that holds a shred of possibility that it might lead to a professional career or, at the very least, scholarship to a good college. Kid's sports has become a year-round, every day, beat-'em-with-the-fundamentals-'till-they-do-them-in-their-sleep machine. And more and more, talented kids are opting out — burned out from the unending repetition — lost to the professional sports that they loved. At the core, it is no longer any fun.

To some extent, that is what happened to me over the last few weeks. No matter how much I love writing, I just … could … not … do … it … any … more.

And that was what was happening to the audit group I was working with. No matter how much they may have liked internal audit when they started, it had become a job. (Quick aside: I know internal audit is a job. I am not someone who completely subscribes to the whole "follow your dreams" thing. But I am a firm believer that you should find something you love about what you do and, if you can't, that is when you go find something else.)

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how this story ends. I got the chance, after the training was over, to pass my observations on to the individual in charge of that training. He seemed genuinely interested, and he seemed to be seriously looking at what the department could do. But that person was not ultimately in charge — was not the CAE — so his hands may have been tied. I do not know how it all turned out.

But this leads us to a question you should be asking about yourself and the people who are reporting to you (if you have any). How often are people — how often are you — having to do the same thing every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every span with which time is measured? And this can be more than just audit work in general. How often is one person working nonstop on reports, another person on workpapers, another person on interviews? Are responsibilities being rotated in a sufficient manner to keep grown auditors from screaming for the nearest ledge? The redundant assignment of specific audit work to one individual is not a particularly common practice — but I have seen it happen.

But the cause of burn out is not restricted to situations where one person is assigned the same task over and over. Every auditor, in any position, will wind up doing nothing but audit work month after month. And this will as surely lead to burn out as being the one who does nothing but write reports all the time. If you are in charge, do you actively search for and assign special projects to those auditors who are on the fringes of burn out — projects that are completely different from any audit work being done. And, if you are not in charge, do you go begging for those assignments? If they are not there, search for something that could be an impactful special project, tell everyone about it, and then go begging to be put in charge.

Part of the reason I was able to manage to stay in internal audit for more than 30 years was that I was always finding something different to do. Sometimes my bosses loved it and backed me 1,000 percent, sometimes they weren't sure what I was talking about but let me run free anyway, and sometimes they didn't have a clue and did everything they could to shut me down.

But I found ways to change what I was doing. And I almost never got bored.

And, I never got burned out. (Except for the last couple of weeks. Honest, I'll continue the series on root cause. Just don't expect it right away.)​

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