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​​Works and Plays Well with Others​​

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For those of you who have been following along, you know that this series of posts all got started because of a blog post from The Center for Creative Leadership called “7 Competencies for Freelance Success” (or, as I prefer to call it, ​entrepreneurial success.) I believe any of these competencies apply to internal auditors just as much as they apply to entrepreneurs. You may agree; you may not. But one thing I think we can all agree on is, of all the competencies listed, the third one – relationship management – is a fundamental necessity for any internal auditor to experience even a modicum of success.

So, because every auditor understands the impact and importance of relationship management, then every auditor is doing everything he or she can to build, manage, and maintain relationships. And, if every auditor is doing everything possible to build, manage, and maintain relationships, then there is little need for us to dive into this particular competency, correct?

Hold on there, Baba Looey. Let me tell you a story.

A couple of years ago I facilitated a two-day seminar for an IIA Chapter. I will do the members of that chapter a service by not stating which one it was. The reason will become quickly apparent.

It seemed to go well – good interaction, the participants seemed to enjoy it, and everyone seemed to stay awake. I went home blithely believing that all was right with the world.

A couple of weeks went by and I got the results from the participants’ surveys. In general, the results were fine. But I was taken aback by one response. (My apologies, I do not have the exact quote. But what follows is the upshot of the message.) The person indicated that the course had required too much interaction among the participants.

Now, I can see someone saying there were too many breakouts or case studies or something to that effect. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the comment, but I could understand the origins of such a concern. But the person was literally talking about interactions. How do I know that? Because he (and, as I look back, I am pretty sure I know who provided this response, so I’m going to stick with “he”) went on to say that the members of the chapter didn’t really like a lot of interaction – that they would much rather work on their own.

As should happen anytime we come across something in the world that makes us go, “Uh, what?!”, I want you to back up a second, walk around that one, and try to wrap your mind around it.

Here was a gentleman who indicated that a group of individuals whose very livelihoods rested on the success of interactions – the success of being able to “work well with others” – felt that everyone in that seminar – all fine representatives of the local internal audit community – would prefer not to work with others.

I didn’t see any green eyeshades. I didn’t see any mechanical pencils. I didn’t see any fourteen-columnar pads. I didn’t see any of the relics of internal audit’s “good old days”. But, if all I knew about the group was this one person’s comments, then I would have fully expected it to consist of Bob Cratchit-like figures all perched atop their stools, bent over their ledgers, and sharpening their bayonets as they asked for the address of the nearest group of wounded.

At this point, I want to quickly note that this was only one person’s interpretation of the crowd’s desires. I have no evidence to support that his feelings were widespread. As I noted, the group was lively, interactive, and seemed to enjoy the materials that were being presented. But there was at least one person who felt personal interaction was not a good thing, and he was of the opinion that the majority of the crowd felt the same.

Internal audit lives and dies by its relationships. And those are interactions with everyone in the organization from mailroom clerk to C-suite suit. The ability to communicate, learn, and just be a plain old ordinary human with everyone at all levels in the organization is fundamental to our ability to gain the information necessary to successfully do our jobs.

But the story above brings up an interesting point about internal auditors. Very few of us got into this line of work because we like working with people.

Now, I’m not saying we dislike people. But I would be willing to bet that the primary psychological type for internal auditors leans more towards the introvert than the extrovert. (No hard and fast facts; just soft and slippery guesses). Extroverts quickly migrate to marketing and sales and management development positions. Introverts gravitate toward technical areas, including the technicalities of accounting and, by an often-too-close relationship, internal audit.

We have to overcome those tendencies.

I still remember my interview for the first position I ever held in internal audit. I was asked about my weaknesses (or some version of that now far-too-cliché question.) Being too dumb to varnish the truth, I responded that I tended to avoid conflict and that it would be something I needed to overcome in my role as an internal auditor. Something in my answer must have worked, because I was given the job. (Then again, there may have literally been no one else applying for the job. I try not to think about that too much.)

But I have always known that whenever I exhibited any resistance to conflict, any avoidance of developing relationships, any indication that introversion was rearing its ugly head, I had to overcome it if I was going to succeed.

Because the successful auditor is the one who reaches out, builds bridges, makes friends, and develops friendships. The first reason is that, well, that is the way a real human being should act. (And, above all else, we have to remember that we are and should act like human beings.)

But the second reason ties in with something said in the blog post from The Center for Creative Leadership’s. “A rich and thriving community can be a source of many things…” Those many things include information, development opportunities, talent identification, risk identification, control identification, fraud indicators, moral issues, any of a myriad set of “things” that internal auditors desperately need. As the blog post says, “Instead of relying only on yourself, try proactively engaging with others and building a diverse community of relationships.”

That is how auditors learn what is going on in their organizations, profession, and community. That is how internal auditors market their skills and profession. And it is how internal auditors make themselves better at their jobs and at being real, live people.​

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