Two stories from the real world. They aren’t about internal
audit, per se. But, hang in there, I’ll figure out some way to tie them all together
by the end.
Story No. 1:
I’m a big fan of Yellowstone National Park in general and
geysers in particular. I try, at least once a year, to take the 14-hour drive
from my home in Phoenix to Yellowstone in order to spend anywhere from three to
five days sitting, waiting for geysers to erupt. I am the epitome of the word
“fanatic” from which the word “fan” was derived. (I want to quickly note there
are some geyser gazers — yes, that is what we are called — who are crazier than
me. For example, sitting overnight in near freezing temperatures hoping to
catch a glimpse of Steamboat Geyser.)
I think the longest I have waited (successfully) was about
six hours for a geyser called Beehive. Its four-foot tall cone is no more than 10
feet from the boardwalk and, for those willing to wait (or just plain lucky
enough to walk up at the right time) they will get to experience a geyser shooting
200 feet into the air for approximately five minutes.
(One time, standing next to Beehive waiting for the eruption,
I phoned in to an all-hands meeting where it was going to be announced that I
was being promoted to Senior Manager. As my boss called on me for comment, I
had to apologize for not paying attention because Beehive was erupting. Later,
my boss, not really understanding where I was, asked “Bees were shooting 200
feet into the air?”)
Unfortunately, it is a rather unpredictable geyser with
intervals between eruptions lasting anywhere from eight to 24 hours. However, one
of the nice things about this geyser is that it has a companion geyser that
usually (usually is the key word when it comes to anything related to geysers) goes
off anywhere from five to 25 minutes before Beehive’s eruption. In a wellspring of
originality, it has been named Beehive’s Indicator.
Here is what drives us geyser gazers crazy. People will walk
by, see the Indicator erupting, pause momentarily (sometimes) to watch, and
then wander off without waiting around for the spectacular that is Beehive. Now,
it might be easy to excuse these people because, unless you are a geyser gazer
geek (another term for us, often used by my wife and kids) you would not know
the role of Beehive’s Indicator. However, there is a plaque nearby explaining Beehive's
Indicator’s role, and there are usually gazers nearby imploring anyone who will
listen that they should stay to see the real show.
But people just keep walking, not wanting to wait the extra
moment. They drove hours, sometimes days, to see this very show. Yet, they keep
moving, focused on seeing everything while missing out on one of the reasons
they made the trek in the first place.
Story No. 2 (Not as long; I promise):
My wife and I were in Monterrey, Calif. and decided to visit the Monarch
Grove Butterfly Sanctuary. We had been before, didn’t see any butterflies, but
decided that, since it was a pretty area, we would walk the paths again. This
time, there were a lot of people along the path looking at the eucalyptus
(Just to show I actually research these things, I thought I
remembered they were eucalyptus trees, but didn’t trust that memory. I looked
it up and, danged if I wasn’t right. When it comes to horticulture, don’t expect
this to happen again.)
We paused, didn’t see anything, and walked on down the
pathway looking at the ocean and other sights on the trail.
As we came back, we paused again. I can’t say if our eyes
adjusted, we stayed a little longer, or we just finally got smart enough to
really look, but I thought I spotted a butterfly on one of the branches. My
wife agreed, and pointed out another … and another … and another … and …
Quite simply, the trees were covered with them, hundreds
upon hundreds. But you had to take a moment to really look and see them. As
brightly colored as they were, they still blended in with the surroundings.
You had to stop and really pay attention.
When we do our audit work (See!!! I told you we’d get
there!!!), we are always in a hurry. There is a deadline, another meeting, another
interview, another test, another audit, another lots of things. We barely have
time to do the work we are supposed to do, so we rush through that work, doing
an excellent job (of course it’s excellent; could it be anything but?), a
most-excellent job of completing the task we have been assigned.
But what are we missing?
If we spend just 10 extra minutes talking to people,
looking around the office, grabbing a cup of coffee, doing anything that allows
us to relax and actually see what is going on around us, what might we discover?
At Farmers Insurance, we used to do a lot of agency audits,
covering a number of areas in those half-day reviews. Every auditor knew the
drill — four hours, at most, and move on to the next one. But every auditor
also knew that, even while counting the cash and reviewing receipts and
performing all the other particulars that made up the audit, it was his or her
responsibility to also listen to what was going on when customers came in the
door, when the agent or staff was on the phone, when the agent was speaking to
the staff, when people were doing their jobs. It spoke volumes about the agent,
the agent’s staff, the way they worked, and potential issues. Auditors paying
attention to what was going on around them instead of focusing solely on the
work in front of their faces.
Stick around at Beehive Geyser when the Indicator is going
off. Let your eyes adjust, take a closer look at the trees, and see if there is
something more there than just a forest. And be mindful of what is going on
around you as you complete your audit work. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing
a pile of paperwork on a desk and asking one question.