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Do the Audit Work You Can Care About​

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"I can't make something I wouldn't stand in line to go see."
— Steven Soderbergh

Whether you want it or not, I'm about to give you some insight into how this author comes up with these blog posts. Today, I read the above quote and instantly thought, "This is about report writing." In my mind, I began constructing a blog post that laid out the case for internal auditors making our reports — and even the audits themselves — interesting to those who are forced to experience them.

I was going to say that any time you approach the rough or final draft of an audit report with trepidation — not trepidation that it will be bad or that it will need more work, but just trepidation caused by the sheer boredom of having to look at it again — then imagine how the client feels.

I then planned on wrapping it all up with an exhortation to look for ways to make reports — and any communications — more interesting.

I sat down to write the post that was taking shape within the dark and empty recesses of my mind. (After all, this is called "From the Mind of Jacka.") However, a sentence or two into the process, I thought of a side point that I wanted to bring up. Lest I forget it (because, again, much gets lost in these dark and empty recesses) I started to write a couple of notes about that sidetrack. And then, without knowing it had happened, that sidetrack turned into the main thrust.

So, here we go. A sidetrack that became the main event.

I don't know how you feel about the movies of Steven Soderbergh, the author of the above quote. (And, if you don't know who he is, take a second to look him up. You don't need to know anything about him to follow what follows, but it never hurts to be curious and to explore.) In general, he isn't necessarily my favorite director. I thought Solaris was good and I loved the insanity of Behind the Candelabra. But most of his work just doesn't hit the mark for me.

Of course, he doesn't seem to care what I think because he isn't doing his work for me. And, if the quote above is true to the way he really works, then he is actually doing his work for the most important person out there … himself. He is doing the work he wants to see.

And being true to what you want to see and do is a key to success for anyone.

No auditor can do work if they do not believe in the work they are doing.

At Farmers Insurance, we did a lot of agency audits every year. What's a lot? At times, over 1,000. This work became a bone of contention between myself and one of our very talented auditors. Shoot, let's not sugar coat it; we argued about this a lot. I saw real value in the work we were doing, as well as the opportunity to make a difference at a grass roots level. She saw tedium, meaningless repetition, and lack of focus on the big picture.

Who was right? Me, of course!

No, wait. Neither of us was right; neither of us was wrong.

You see, value for the organization came about based on how each of us obtained value from the work we were doing. Yes, I found incredible value within those agency audits. And, for those of us who believed in that particular work, value was received by the company. But others, including the auditor mentioned above, did not see nor obtain that same value. For the auditors who did not believe in that type of work — who did not think agency audits were the best use of internal audit's limited resources — better value was achieved by putting them on the types of projects they could believe in. And, in that way, value was once again received by the company.

We have to do work that we care about.

Each auditor has to take personal responsibility to understand the kind of work he or she cares about, and then search it out. But it is also each auditor's responsibility to take the work that has been given and find the value. You're given the petty cash audit. Is there anything more mundane, boring, and seemingly valueless? But take a look at the bigger picture. Why was it included in the audit schedule? How is it impacting the organization? How can even a simple audit like this be used to make the client better? There is a big picture around every assignment, and each auditor must find that framework and use it as impetus for doing the best work possible.

But part of the responsibility for finding the audits that excite an auditor and drive better value is actually with those in charge – all the way from the chief audit executive down to the lowly auditor-in-charge. Understand the auditors who are doing the work and assign them the work that they can care about. Give them the work that they would want to stand in line to see.

Now, it has probably not escaped anyone that, in spite of saying I was not going to talk about how the introductory quote spoke to report writing, I still managed to get that message in there. And it is worth repeating. If you are bored by your report, then the client doesn't have a chance. Find a way to communicate — oral or written — that, at the very least, keeps everyone awake.

But the broader point is just as, if not more, important. For auditors, find excitement in what you do; for managers, find what excites your auditors; and for leaders, find excitement for yourself, for the department, and for the organization.

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