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​How to Get to Carnegie Hall

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The other day, what I anticipated as a quick visit to the bank turned into a long wait at the bank manager's desk — a one-and-a-half-hour wait while he made calls and conferred with other bank employees. Boring to say the least. I began indulging in a habit I formed during my oh-so-numerous years as an internal auditor. I was unconsciously observing what was going on around me.

The unconscious became conscious when I noticed the bank manager go into a secured area. Entrance required inputting a code into a keypad. A relatively straightforward control; one would expect no less in a bank environment. However, I noticed that, as the manager entered the code with his right hand, he placed his left hand over the pad so no one could see the number he was entering.

I don't think I've ever seen anyone use that particular approach. And, in the high-risk environment of a bank, that's not a bad practice. Which led to my wondering what other employees were doing — how were they ensuring security was maintained as they entered the magic number? I began paying attention to everyone that passed through that door. (Did I mention I was bored?) As far as I could tell, no one else put their hand over the numbers. But the reason I couldn't tell was that every one of them, one way or another, was blocking the line-of-sight with their bodies.

Bottom line, if I had been so inclined, I could not have discerned the number through observation.

A common control strengthened by the employees' extra diligence. Had they been trained in such actions? Was this a natural action? Or was I lucky enough to be visiting on "National Don't Let Anyone See Your Keypad Day"?

Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. (Insert rimshot here.)

Do you know how to become a better internal auditor? Practice. (Skip rimshot.)

It is obvious that we become better internal auditors the more we practice the skills of the profession. But we hamstring ourselves by thinking that such practice has to come either on-the-job or in the classroom/seminar room/lunch-with-the-local-IIA-chapter room. We seem blind to the opportunities that abound by just paying attention as we live our lives.

We all have experienced the frustrations of innumerable processes that drive us crazy, make no sense, and are begging for a massive overhaul. At the same time, if we are willing to look, there are processes so streamlined and perfected we barely notice them.

As you go through your day, start paying attention to what works and what doesn't. As you drive to work, sit in on the Zoom meeting, make lunch, go through the drive-through, watch the barista barist, watch the cashier handle transactions, wait in line at TSA, examine the inefficient layout of the hotel room where you planned to work that evening, try to remember a password you set up a year ago, try to find a password you wrote down a year ago, try to reset a password you set up a year ago, sit on hold while listening to a recording expound on the importance of your call, fill out forms for a doctor that not only match the ones you filled out six months ago but ask for the same information on every page, wait for … Sorry, I seem to have gone off on a few personal diatribes here.

As you experience and examine life, pay attention to what is going on around you. Look for what is going wrong. And just as importantly, what is going right. It's not your audit. It's not your review. It's not your consulting project. It's not your circus. It's not your monkey. But it is a chance to practice. 

It is observation and analysis. It is critical thinking. It is seeing solutions — existing and potential. It is taking specific and positive action to enhance skills that will make you a better auditor.

And, once you get in the habit, you will find yourself doing it all the time, including when you are doing audit work.

But that is just one of the skills that make up a good auditor. There are more out there, and some of those can also be honed in daily life. Next time, a few more practice points that will get us to Carnegie Hall.

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