When I say auditors create caustic work environment, I expect an indignant response from auditorville to the effect – “What are you saying, we are beacons of decency and always walk the high moral ground.” A question that begs an answer is - have auditors acknowledged the angst of business teams and if so, what have they done about it? Auditors sing paeans about their positive contribution to business operations. However, business teams frequently hold the opinion that auditors badger and bulldoze them. Such contrarian views create disharmony in the working environment. Hence, to some extent auditors can be said to be contributing to building a negative work culture.
Now before going on the defensive, just hear me out. As auditors, we sometimes build walls between audit and business teams without realizing that we are doing so. As clichéd as it may sound, our attitude and approach cause negative perceptions and build resistance amongst business teams. From being harbingers of building a risk culture in the organization, we become potent controversy creators.
Let me give a few examples here and some suggestions to corroborate my statement. Tell me whether you agree or disagree with the scenarios mentioned below.
1. Park your ego at the door
Whenever I read a blog and to see the text I have to close an advertisement, I am irritated. I feel why I am being forced to read an advertisement when I wish to read the article. I didn’t sign off for seeing a large advertisement covering the text. The interruption in my desire to read the blog post by closing the advertisement is a cause of annoyance.
Come to think of it, as auditors we are equivalent to these advertisements to business managers. Audit projects interrupt their smooth operations, as business managers prefer focusing on their key result areas. We are irritants to them and can become a source of stress if not managed properly.
A few auditors deal with business managers with a sense of narcissistic entitlement. Auditors somewhat falsely believe since they are auditing the work of business teams they have the upper hand and are superior. In some cases, without having knowledge and experience of business operations, auditors still believe that their opinions and suggestions must be accepted by business managers.
Sometimes auditors forget that the business managers have a different set of strengths and must be appreciated for the same. Rather than adopting a command-control structure, a positive culture is formed when auditors handhold the business teams.
2. Don’t make a mountain of a molehill
Ever felt the urge as an auditor to present a B or C level observation in a manner to senior management as if the sky is falling. Just to settle an old grouse with the business manager and show him/her in bad light. Well you won’t be the first one, and as humans, all of us feel tempted sometime in our career to be spiteful. However, each such incident causes distrust amongst business teams.
To put it bluntly, auditors enjoy the privilege of having access to confidential information of the organization and to senior management. If they wish, they can abuse this power by politicizing audit observations to harm business teams. Each audit project gives auditors new ammunition to use against business teams. The idea to politicize audit report findings may appear tempting; however, auditors end up creating potential hurdles for themselves. Whenever an audit is scheduled business managers would perceive that they are dancing with wolves and will be eaten alive for lunch.
Auditors need to take care that they do not damage anyone’s credibility. They need to empathize with the business managers and work together with them to resolve organization issues.
3. Don’t take yourself so seriously
Key to building good relationships is that communicate in a manner where the receiver of the message first gets a message that generates positive emotions. After making the emotional deposit, then maybe share a critical view and then again make an emotional deposit. This ensures that the receiver is positively inclined to take negative feedback and initiate dialogue. However, sometimes auditors don’t spend time on niceties. Auditors have the reputation of being brusque and humorless. They carry the serious furrowed-brow look, which makes them somewhat unapproachable to business teams. Without humor and empathy forming socially harmonious relationships becomes challenging.
If you don't beleive me, read the story below to understand the sentiments of the business teams for their auditors.
A senior auditor and business manager were kidnapped. The kidnappers called the CEO for ransom money threatening to kill both of them. The CEO did a quick math and said “Go ahead and shoot them, in the ransom money amount, I can hire 20 more.”
Now the kidnappers asked the auditor what his last wish was. The auditor said – “It has saddened me to hear that my CEO whom I had worked for 20 years has no value for me. I have always worked diligently; hence as my last act on this earth I would like to read out my audit report to the business manager.”
The kidnappers saw no harm in the request and asked the business manager his last wish. The business manager looked deeply into the eyes of the auditor and requested pleadingly to the kidnappers - “Shoot me immediately”.
In my view one of the important things to do for making audit project successful is to make collaboration enjoyable for the business teams. Auditors have the choice to be enablers, navigators or roadblocks to the success of business teams.
According to you what lessons should audit teams learn to improve the working environment of audit projects and develop stronger relationships with business teams?
Sonia Jaspal is a qualified Chartered Accountant, Certified Internal Auditor and has cleared Certified Public Accountant Examinations (CPA) from USA. She blogs as Sonia Jaspal's RiskBoard (http://soniajaspal.wordpress.com)