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​Wrong Purpose; Wrong Results

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I spent a great deal of time in my last two blog posts talking about the audit reports we write. In the first, I talked about the purpose of our reports and the need for us to be conscious of what we write in support of that purpose. In the second, I went into depth (perhaps, too great a depth) analyzing one, short sentence that often appears in audit reports, such analysis all done in the name of understanding the impact of our word choices on the report's purpose.

Unfortunately, it is now time for true confessions. I talked about how most auditors see the purpose of the audit report being to persuade the reader to take action. I built my discussion on that purpose. And, well, sorry, but I don't believe that to be true. I do not believe the purpose of our audit reports should be to drive action. Don't believe it for a minute.

Let me quickly say that my state of apostasy does not undermine anything I had to say in those previous posts. Approaching a report as if it is meant to persuade the reader to action makes for a better, more readable, more concise audit report. As noted in those previous blog posts, it will help focus content and, with any luck, make all readers actually pay attention to what is written.

However, I sincerely believe that, if your primary purpose for issuing an internal audit report is to drive the reader to action, you have already failed.

You cannot wait until a report is written to convince the client/reader that action needs to be taken. Getting action — getting the client to buy-in to what has been found, to understand the impacts, to work on a way to make the process better, to agree and begin corrective procedures — has to permeate the entire audit process.

For audit reports (as well as audits) to have any value, agreement to take action, as well as the actual actions, must be occurring before the draft of the report is completed.

When I worked with Farmers Insurance, agreement was reached and, generally, action already started by the time the report was issued. Our reports were not a call to action; they were a record that action was taking place.

In fact, a long time ago when paperreportasaurs ruled the earth, we issued joint executive summaries — a document signed by both the audit director and the client responsible for action. It wasn't a report from internal audit; it was a joint report issued by both departments.

That is a powerful approach. That is agreement, that is action, and that is buy-in to the report, to the process, and to the value of internal audit.

I'll be honest, I don't know how the same thing could be achieved in this paperless world. I know we quit using the approach as times changed. But, again, the concept of a joint report is powerful. And it deserves a rebirth. I challenge anyone reading this blog post to explore how to wield such power by looking for opportunities to issue reports in this way.

Ultimately, your report speaks volumes about how you do your audit work. And, if you are using the report as a tool for persuasion, then you need to take a closer look at the work you are doing. Why isn't action already agreed to? Why isn't action being taken? And might that be part of the reason that, no matter how many reports you issue, things always stay the same. 

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