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Volume 1, Issue 1

April 18, 2006

Page 14

Oh no! the auditor is here!

William E. Chadwick

Internal auditors don't always receive the warmest reception from those outside the profession. Humor and a positive attitude can go a long way toward winning over the uninformed .


"And what do you do?" "I'm a nurse at Children's Hospital. I work in oncology saving children's lives and comforting grief-stricken parents." "How about you?" "I'm a high school guidance counselor. I help young people plan their futures so that they can be happy, ful- filled working professionals." "And you, sir?" "I'm an attorney." Scowls begin to appear on the partygoers' faces. "I defend the underprivileged to ensure they get fair treatment in our society." Frowns immediately turn to warm smiles. Their eyes turn toward me. I quickly glance at my drink, hoping that it is empty so I can leave to refill my glass. I start to inch my way out of the room. Too late! Here comes the question I've been dreading. since I arrived. "Bill, where do you work?" Although I'm proud of my profession, I've been through this scenario before. So, I try my best to avoid a di- rect answer.

BARRIER #1: "I work at Boston College." "Oh! Do you teach?" They always ask that. Educators are so well-respected. BARRIER #2: "No, I'm in administration." "Really. What do you do in administration?" BARRIER #3: "I work in accounting" I can see now that their patience is wearing thin, and they're beginning to take this as a personal challenge. They figure I must have an awful job. Smirks begin to appear on their lips -- always a dead giveaway that I'm in serious trouble. I've run out of barriers. In a low, sheepish voice, looking down at my feet, I say: "I'm an internal auditor." Suddenly, there are looks of disdain, scorn, and shock. Hey! I didn't say I was a habitual criminal out on pa- role. Internal auditors are the good guys. Then comes the question I've heard so often I can mouth the words in unison with the speaker. "Are you an IRS mole?" The pack immediately begins to back away toward other party guests. Before I know it, I'm standing there by myself scanning the room to see if anyone looks as desperate as I do. I notice a guy standing alone in a cor- ner. I start walking toward him. "Hi! Nice party. What do you do?" I say in an attempt to control the situation and my anxiety. "I'm a mortician. Why else would I be by myself?" he says, giving me a suspicious squint of the eye.

SOUND FAMILIAR? IT'S FAIR to say that those outside the profession have not always perceived internal auditors kindly, whether at a cocktail party or on the job. When I told a friend I was writing an article on hu- mor and auditors, he replied, "Well, that should be a short piece" -- everyone's a comedian. As every auditor knows, internal auditing contributes major improvements to organizations by providing best practices in running a business, both operationally and financially. However, getting others to recognize their accomplishments can be difficult, because, by its nature, internal auditing often creates adversarial situations.

Communication between auditors and operating personnel is sometimes strained. Audit clients are often concerned that audit report recommendations will be embarrassing or even place their jobs in jeopardy. And, clients often see audits as disruptions to their workloads that create additional time pressures. Because of the negative reactions often elicited by an internal audit, practitioners need to show a high degree of sensitivity when conducting their work. By using humor and maintaining an upbeat attitude, auditors can make clients more comfortable and lessen their apprehension.

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