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​A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Audit

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​I recently discovered this quote from director Billy Wilder. “If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.”

Let’s use today’s political situation as an example. (Don’t worry, I won’t be getting political.)

People seem to really enjoy talking about what’s going on. (Thank you, social media.) While much of that conversation falls into the category of conversation, discussion, and good- (and sometimes bad-) natured needling, there are two camps that seem to rule the mediums.

On the one hand are the lamenters and keeners and ululators and wailers and gnashing-of-teethers — the ones who yell, scream, pout, and post (oh, do they post) about how things are going badly. Sometimes the comments are serious, well-researched items that deserve attention. Others are made up of less-than-factually-based rumors meant to do nothing but foment, obfuscate, and confuse.

These types of comments, the well-researched and the no-so-well-researched, have some impact, but the value of that impact is up for debate. There are plenty of arguments (and data) to support that these merely preach to the choir, doing little more than reinforcing concepts that the choir has already assumed to be self-evident.

On the other hand are the comedians — standup, late night talk show, blogs, podcasts. Research continues to show (and honest, I had that research here a second ago, but it has vanished like the support for the majority of social media posts) that people are getting their “news” from these comedians. And some initial research (again, I had it here somewhere) shows that these comedians are having a greater impact on people’s views and opinions than any other information dispersal system.

Here is the message: People want to be entertained while they get their information. Yes, scare tactics work, but only so far. To repeat Mr. Wilder’s quote, if you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.

How much trouble do you have getting your message across to clients? Do you find yourself having to pour more and more gasoline on the potential-risk fire just to make them care? And, in the process, are you starting to build a wall between yourself and your clients — a perception that all you ever see is the negative side of business, that you do not understand how business really works, and that your only concern is to keep things from getting done?

Then, more than likely, without realizing it, you are falling into that first camp — the camp of the lamenters and wailers, et al. You don’t mean to do it. But everything you have to say is so darned important and executives have to do something about it NOW and, if not, then the end of times will be at hand and …

See how tiresome this becomes? If this is you (and it may well be you even if you are not willing to acknowledge the fact) It is time to change camps.

Now, I’m not saying you go too far the other way — taking up stand up to become the world’s greatest comedian as you tell them their controls are falling apart. (“What’s the difference between someone who doesn’t control their operations and an out-of-work executive? Nothing.”) But I am saying you need to lighten up.

If you beat a constant drum of doom, disaster, destruction, unmitigated risks, disastrously broken controls, hell in a handbasket, the sky is falling, the stock is plummeting, woe woe the end is nigh — no matter how accurate — those receiving the message will be numbed. “Wolf!” will have been cried far too often for anyone to believe anything. And the ones who constantly cry wolf, even if they are right each and every time, find themselves no longer allowed to watch the store or the sheep or the whatever. (Sorry, my metaphors got mixed, mashed, and mangled, eventually drowning in the sea of their own — sorry, there I go again.)

For many people, the following rule for internal audit is basic, but it needs to be repeated until everyone becomes blasé with its familiarity. It is not about finding what is wrong; it is about helping the organization find how to make things better — gain efficiencies, save money, get more customers, achieve objectives. And when internal audit’s message is focused on improvement, when it becomes something others want to hear, when it becomes entertaining, then internal audit can begin to provide real value by achieving the main thing any internal audit department wants — for someone to listen to them.

And, you know what? If you could inject a little humor, it wouldn’t hurt.

An auditor walks into a bar ...

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