A Good Auditor is Your Friend

January 11, 2004 by
Filed under: People 

There was a time in my career where I was naïve enough to think that everyone was always focused on improving their job performance whenever possible.

Over time I have come to realize this is not the case – we are all neck deep in alligators most of the time, and barely have the time to do what we need to, let alone find time to set aside for improvement (a classic chicken ‘n egg problem). Hearing that the auditor will be around generates even more stress – the arrival is often preceeded by a mass of useless documentation, succeeded by recommendations that seem to get in the way of getting work done. The messenger is often fatally shot before his arrival.

If there is any interest in getting better (and reducing pain, which is really what it is all about), there are several ways that an external auditor can support your cause, especially if the audit phase is a precursor to change in the organization (perhaps ‘auditor’ is the wrong term here, but ‘process consultant’ has an even uglier stigma in most shops).

Objectivity – the ability to look at your organization without internal biases – diminishes with each day you are in the trenches. In some places it is easily gone in the first day as you are already overwhelmed with issues. Having an external perspective is critical in understanding where the true challenges lie. Additionally, a good auditor will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear – there is far less pressure on an external resource to stretch the truth, or to make forward looking statements that cannot be validated. The truth is out there, not ‘in here’.

Experience – a good auditor has the depth of experience with a wide variety of organizations, as well as a sound foundation in the approach they bring to the table. Simply having been in the field for years is insufficient. In my experience I have found that what is often perceived as profound depth – the ability to look at an organization and identify the core issues – comes simply from being outside of the problem space. Dale Carnegie said “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do” – there is no reason to pony up tens of thousands of dollars for a report that tells you what you probably already know, and don’t want to hear again. The true measure of a good external resource is whether he can translate these findings into measurable improvements for your organization, and how quickly you can move into the phases where value is realized.

But we need to be sure that this external resource carries all the strong attributes, and none of the nasty undertones. Nobody likes to be told they have an ugly baby, and unfortunately for many organizations, there can be more than a few blemishes. Expressed with insufficient tact, the news will not be heard at all, and any potential benefit will be lost. A good auditor can be leveraged to deliver a message that you are often compelled to deliver, without the risk of the fallout.

The auditor is not an opponent for you to try to beat in some kind of game of wits. The notion that the external auditor is the enemy that you need to placate and send on his way as quickly as possible can’t be further from the truth. In reality, a trusted external auditor can be handy to retain to ensure you stay on your toes and actually do improve. Think of them more as fitness trainers than people from the tax office. When was the last time you took your company to the gym? – JB

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