In last week’s blog post, I discussed, among other things,
that successful report writing is not so much about regurgitating facts as it
is understanding the story that needs to be told. At least, that was one of the
things I was trying to say.
As so often serendipitously happens, right after that post
was let loose into the ether, I stumbled across this quote from author Keith
Laumer: “The single most important thing a human being can do is establish
mind-to-mind communications through speech and writing…”
You know what? I think that is a big part of what I was
really trying to say.
Ultimately, all our memos and emails and meetings and
interviews and discussions and revisions and review notes and rough-drafts, first-rough-drafts,
second-rough-drafts, final-rough-drafts, second-final-rough-drafts, almost-the-real-final-drafts,
and really-really-really-final-drafts-except-for-a-couple-of-things are all
about accomplishing one thing, establishing mind-to-mind communication. We are
trying to understand what our clients need, we are trying to pass the information
we have learned back to those clients, and we are trying to obtain agreement
(mind-to-mind) on how we can move forward toward success.
Which raises an interesting question. Why do we all attend
(or force our auditors to attend) the unending multitude of training sessions
related to the writing of reports?
(“What? Where did that one come from? We weren’t even
talking about training?”)
(Hang in there with me. We'll get there.)
Internal audit seems to be on an eternal search, akin to the
Conquistadors quest for the seven cities of gold, trying to find the answers to
our biggest issues. How best to manage our time, measure our success, identify
true root causes, proactively identify potential risks, etc., etc. (feel free
to add your personal Cibola to this list); our objectives are always seemingly
within our grasp, glistening just over the next hill, but never quite achieved.
But the one I hear most often — the most consistent “Help me
Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope" — relates to writing effective audit
So, floundering in the search for perfection, we all react
the same way. Go to a lot of training; send our auditors to a lot of training;
and constantly reexamine, retool, and recharge our audit report process and
structure. And, while we occasionally obtain band-aids that stop some of the
bleeding, the problem never seems to be solved.
And there is a very good reason for that failure. When
trying to build a better report writing process, we are focusing on the wrong
Those training sessions do a wonderful job of providing
information about the craft, helping attendees understand things like structure,
syntax, root cause, the five Cs, and, in the best courses, the role of the
client. But, at the end of the day, they are still nothing more than craft. And,
while you have to understand the craft in order to create the art, we never
move beyond technique to understand how we can better achieve mind-to-mind
(Allow me to throw myself under the same bus. I’ve provided
and developed training. Yet, until I started putting this blog post together, I
didn’t realize how all our training was misaligned, focusing on the craft and away
from what really needs to get done.)
What we are missing in our report writing — where we fail to
understand the breakdown in mind-to-mind communication — is that the cursory
steps we take toward understanding our clients do not even begin to break
through the mental barriers.
When I look back on the most effective reports I have
written, they were delivered to the people I knew the best. Some were friends. Some
were recent acquaintances I had gotten to know well. And some were just
individuals with whom I had worked a long time. But the disasters, blow ups,
and pure mediocrity seldom happened when I worked with these people. Generally,
the most successful audits (and most successful audit reports) occurred when I
worked with the people I knew best.
That ain’t no coincidence.
I knew them. I had built a
rapport with them. As much as possible, I understood their positions and they understood
mine. And success followed.
“Nice story,” you may be thinking, “but where am I supposed
to find training for that particular intangible?”
Well, good news. It’s already out there. We just haven’t been
paying attention. At least, we haven’t been paying attention to it in this manner.
And, because I’ve gone on quite a bit in trying to lay the foundation
for this discussion, I’ll hold off on the rest of this until my next blog post.
(With any luck, that will be Friday. But we’ll all have to wait and see.)
Until then, two letters that are seldom considered when
talking about audit reports: E and Q.
See if you can guess where it goes from there.