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​An Auditor Walked Into the Audit Department...

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Before we get started, a look into the mind of the blogger. Very often, when I am putting these things together, I start with an idea and some concept of where it will all end. It doesn’t always go where I plan because much of what I do is a form of musing out loud — of making it up and making up my mind as I write. Often, you are seeing the ideas develop at the same time I am. Which means, often, I am as shocked by my conclusions as you are. And sometimes, after I get done, I think to myself, “Well, yes, but what about…”, realizing there may be something more buried in the ramblings I recorded. My previous post is a perfect example.

Last Tuesday, I talked about the need for internal auditors to lighten up — to not always be the purveyors of doom and gloom. If internal audit is going to build partnerships with the business, it needs to focus on making things better, not spend its time looking for things gone wrong. The ultimate point being that people are more responsive to a positive (an entertaining) message than constant negativity and naysaying, and audit needs to remember this as it delivers its messages. (At least, I hope that’s what I said.)

But, after the blog had been posted, the computers all turned off, the desk drawers locked, the barn doors shut, the lamps blown out, and Carol Burnett’s ear tugged (look it up), I realized there was something else that I needed to bring up. (Hence, the introductory paragraph above.)

If you walked into the Phoenix office of Farmers Insurance internal audit, you might have been a bit flummoxed. While portions of that office seemed normal — Steelcase desks and file cabinets and laptop computers and printers and the other accoutrement of the business and internal audit world — there were a lot of other things that tended to give people pause.

Shower siding had been screwed into two of the walls to make inexpensive white boards. Sitting on the file cabinets was a collection of coffee pots — not ones we used; ones that we had purchased through eBay as collectibles. Taped to various walls, desks, and other surfaces were postcards internal auditors had sent back to the department during field visits and other trips. On one wall were pictures of a set of keys that had traveled throughout the world — keys that were photographed by auditors wherever they might be traveling. In the manager’s office (that would be me), sayings of various import or humor were written on one wall. And that particular office also included Monkees bobble-heads; a flying pig; Disney character figurines; three to five coffee mugs; and an assorted mass of papers, books, office supplies, and … well, whatever was buried under all that.

When I show pictures of the office or discuss the situation with other auditors, one of the first questions/comments I get is “Doesn’t that all come off just a tad bit unprofessional?”

Quick answer. “No!”

Point No. 1: We realized we were spending one-third of our lives in that office. We could have made it like every other office in the world, but we were a collection of rather eclectic people and we wanted it to be fun, entertaining, and the kind of place you enjoyed walking into in the morning.

Point No. 2 (and the most important one): We never had a single visitor — client, executive, visiting auditor, job applicant, not a single person — ever accuse us of being unprofessional. Yes, building services was a little miffed that we had written on “their” walls, but they got over it. And we never, I’ll repeat it, never, had anyone question our professionalism.

That is because we let our work speak for us. The actual work, the auditors doing the work, the final product — all of it showed a professionalism that was beyond question. We all understood the importance of internal audit and were not going to do anything to undermine that role. We were seen as partners to the business, trusted advisors, influential confidants, and people who could be trusted. We had a lot of requests for additional audit work. We had a lot of people come to us with potential fraud. And we had a lot of people visit us just because we were human beings who acted like human beings and they were human beings who just wanted to visit.

And not one person, not one executive, not one visitor, was ever put off by what they saw in the office. In fact, the informality and strangeness of it all attracted people to our department — attracted them to meet the auditors, to have those free-ranging conversations (in which, while they weren’t looking, we did a little risk and control training) and, in some cases, to join the profession.

I do not take myself seriously, but I take the work and the profession very seriously. And there is a big difference — a difference that tells the tale of why a lighthearted, eccentric, entertaining approach by our audit department did not detract from the work we did nor from our professionalism.

Tuesday, I talked about the need to lighten up, moving away from being the gloomers and doomers. But it is really more than that. It is developing a frame of mind, a culture, and an environment within the department that promotes a lighter attitude.

Take the work seriously. Take the profession seriously. But have fun in the job, have fun in the work, and, well, just have fun.

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