We used to do a lot of branch claims office audits at
Farmers Insurance — about 120 per year. (Basically, 100 percent of all
claims offices.) Our approach was to spend a week in the office going through
files to support analysis of about 10 different processes. it was our practice
(not a best practice by a long shot, but a practice nonetheless) to then sit
with the claims office manager Friday afternoon and go through all the files where
we had identified potential issues. The purpose of this review was to obtain
agreement on the findings, what would be reported, and how things would be
This particular time, the manager was out of the office, as
were the two claims supervisors. No problem. We had already arranged to meet
with the clerical supervisor. Everyone involved knew it was going to happen,
and everyone agreed that what was agreed upon would be what wound up in our
So, we went into the meeting armed with our files, our
findings, and our knowledge.
Boy, did we take a beating. Oh, it wasn’t a bad thing. It
wasn’t an auditee-who-hated-the-auditors kind of thing. Rather, the supervisor
was able to provide additional information in a significant (emphasize significant)
number of the files — information we had missed or just didn’t have the
knowledge to understand. And with that additional understanding, file after
file was found to no longer contain an inadequacy. Suffice to say that the
potential four or five areas we planned to report as having issues were reduced
At the end of the meeting, we joked with the supervisor
about what had happened. And we all agreed the discussions were a good thing. We
shook hands and went our separate ways.
But what followed was the more important thing. Afterwards,
when we were climbing on the plane to get back home, the auditors were still
joking about what had happened. No second guessing, no pointing fingers, no
wailing and gnashing of teeth about how we had looked like amateurish buffoons
who embodied unprofessionalism and that we should just jump out of the plane
without a parachute because we were the lowest form of human being — the
incompetent internal auditor.
No, we accepted our (minimal) lumps and went on with our
lives — a little wiser, but not particularly beaten nor bowed.
I know a lot of audit groups who would have taken a
different route. They would have been mortified that they had shown a chink in
their armor, a crack in their veneer, a hint of error in their work in front of
an auditee. They would have felt their professionalism had been left in ruins
and they would never be respected in that town again.
Because of that meeting, in subsequent reviews of the same
office, we were welcomed with open arms. Invariably there were jokes about that
meeting, but the clients had seen two things. One, we were willing to admit
when we were wrong. We weren’t dogmatic blowhards who had to have our way no
matter what. We were willing to listen to a reasoned argument without having
our opinions sealed in the concrete of absolute infallibility.
Two (and maybe more importantly), we were human. We proved
that we were not so uptight that the mere mention of a potential error would
make us pucker up like we’d just swallowed a dose of never-sweetened lemonade. We
had shown ourselves capable of making mistakes, owning up to them, and being
able to laugh about them.
In some of my presentations (they seem to change every time
I give one, so I can’t tell you exactly when the following has occurred), there
is a slide that sometimes gets inserted that generates some interesting
(positive) reactions. In fact, I’ve gotten feedback that it may be the most
important slide of the presentation. It states a simple message.
Don’t get hung up on perfection or professionalism or
decorum or respectability or independence or objectivity or whatever excuse you
use to hide your reality behind a three-piece suit and a tie. (Some of you
still wear these, don’t you?) To be able to work with people, to be a partner,
to be seen as part of the solution rather than the problem, you have to let
yourself be human. And you have to let the clients see it happen.