Report from GAM the Fourth - Too Much of a Good Thing
March 25, 2014
Yesterday, as I walked past the various sessions at GAM, I made an observation to myself. (Admit it; you have these inner dialogues, too. It means you're human, not insane. And I'm convinced of that because the vote inside my mind was "Not Insane", five to four. There were a number of abstentions. But we'll move on anyway.) I asked myself, "How many times can you hear someone speak on what the board expects from internal audit?"
That observation was made while walking past a presentation regarding what the board needs from internal audit and noticing that the slide on the screen was speaking to internal audit's need to talk to the board to learn their expectations. This concept is a part of every presentation I've seen on the subject.
And then, after wondering how many you can sit in on, I sat in on one more. And it was at that point that I not only realized the hypocrisy of the question, but also realized that the answer is quite simple. You cannot sit in on too many. And the corollary – you cannot have too much of a good thing.
Two things to back this up. First, there is probably no relationship more important than the one internal audit has with its board and audit committee (or insert the appropriate level for your organization.) Yes, trying to find the most important relationship for internal audit is a little like trying to say that it is more important to keep from catching on fire than drowning. But the board is probably the primary primary customer. And so every presentation on the subject is important.
Second, because the relationship is so important, it is almost impossible to overemphasize the need to reinforce what you already know about the relationship or to find new interpretations of your understanding. Relationship with the board is an area where continuous improvement is key.
And then we get to the corollary. (From up above, remember? "You cannot have too much of a good thing.") Yes, it is possible to go to too many mediocre or bad presentations on the subject. (One would be too many.) But because you never know which one will hold the nugget that will make the difference, you have to go to a lot of them. And, surprisingly, if you are paying attention (if you are actively listening) there are relatively few mediocre or bad ones.
And so, as should be the mantra for any auditor, listen, listen, listen.
Which reminds us all – no matter what the project, situation, audit, interview, etc. – auditors need to listen, listen, listen. (You all know that the original definition for "auditor" – years and years and years ago – was "listener", right? Ponder that one for a while.) Foundational to effective internal audit, no matter where they work, reside, or hide, is to talk to people everywhere to find out what is going on.
So, is it possible to go to too many presentations? Is it possible to listen too much? Is it possible to learn too much? The rhetorical questions get a rhetorical (and resounding) "No!"
Just about the time I thought I had heard too much on a subject, I was shocked to learn more. Had I stopped going, had I stopped listening, had I stopped learning, I wouldn't have picked up the next nugget that might make me a better auditor.
And, as long as you are willing to listen and learn, you will continue to find nuggets to make you better. Doesn't matter if that is about board relationships or customer relationships or audit findings or whatever you are currently working on. Always being open to the need to listen and learn will spell the difference between success and failure.