Volume 1, Issue 1
April 18, 2006
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE
Audit reports that begin with negative statements can create communication barriers and make clients less inclined to cooperate with audit recommendations. Conversely, audit reports that begin by accentuating the positive can improve the relationship between the auditor and the client.
If most of what the audit client is doing is correct, even though there are certain suggestions to improve op- erations, the audit report could begin by stating: "We are pleased to report that...." Also, auditors may want to list the things the client is doing correctly before listing audit issues and related recommendations. A bal- anced format: 1) sets a more positive tone at the beginning of the written communication; 2) is more likely to be perceived as fair by operating personnel; and 3) should result in improved cooperation.
Further, the meetings that follow the audit report can be confrontational. Auditors can use humor in these meetings to enhance communication, disarm hostility, and garner support from attendees. It is hard for peo- ple to be angry and uncooperative with someone who uses humor effectively. If anyone at the meeting ver- bally attacks the auditor, the other attendees will likely perceive the aggressor negatively, and they will sup- port the auditor.
Note, however, that the humor employed in these situations should not be in the form of jokes. Self- deprecating humor can be particularly effective. Whatever type of drollery the auditor chooses, he or she should not focus on any issues about which attendees may be sensitive.
SURPRISE THE CLIENT
Mixing humor and the element of surprise can prove effective in obtaining audit report responses from cli- ents. For example, last winter everyone at my university was preoccupied with the large amount of snow New England received. The roofs of several homes even collapsed. With this as a theme, I sent an email to a tardy client, and in the subject line I wrote, "Roof Collapse." This got her attention. Then I wrote:
Unless your roof has collapsed due to snow, your audit report responses are due. If, in fact, your roof has collapsed, you can have until Monday (with a signed affidavit from your building inspector.) Now please stop shoveling and complete your responses.
The audit client responded that she had been having a bad day until she received the e-mail and that it "made her day." Clients do not expect to receive humorous correspondence, especially from auditors. The client's responses arrived the next day and were agreeable to our suggestions.
In another situation, I sent a couple e-mails to a client requesting his audit report responses, but the messages were ignored. Next, I called and got the client to verbally commit to sending the audit report responses, but I still didn't receive them. Thus, I sent him the following e-mail, which works particularly well in an academic environment:.
Based on our conversation last week, I assumed that your audit responses would he lying on my desk. Unfor- tunately, I can't seem to locate them. Please indicate which of the following events has occurred:
My dog ate my audit report responses.
My aunt passed away unexpectedly, and l had to fly to Omaha to do the eulogy.
My roommate had a nervous breakdown and I've had to nurse her back to good health. (She's still in
pretty bad shape.)
I have retired from Boston College. Please forward your request to someone else who might actually care
if you can find anyone.
I am dearly sorry (once again) for my behavior, and lam sending my responses as we speak.
I titled this e-mail "My Dog Ate My Audit Report Responses." The client chose "E," and I now have a friend for life in that department.
SHOW THEM A DIFFERENT YOU
Another way to enhance acceptance of internal auditing is to communicate with co-workers in a non-audit setting. There are various ways to accomplish this, including joining an organization's special event commit- tees or company-sponsored sporting teams. The internal audit group at Boston College sponsors a bake-off. After all, internal auditors must be risk takers!