The Grandfather Dialogues
Why Don't People Like Internal Auditors, Grandfather?
by Larry Sawyer
IIA 1974



"Do not judge a man until you have walked for one day in his moccasins."


Why Don't People Like Internal Auditors, Grandfather? (Chapter Thirteen)

Grandfather, why don't people like internal auditors?

What gave you the idea that they don't?

Uncle Joe did. He says that in his company all the people he knows don't like them.

That's only one company and only one group of auditors, Randy.

Well, there's my own past experience too.

Your experience? I'm the only internal auditor you know. Don't you like me?

You know I do, Grandfather. But look at it this way. Kids play doctor, astronaut, fighter pilot, cowboy, and lots of other things. I don't know any kid who ever played internal auditor.

You're pulling my leg, you rascal. Actually you're right, although I hate to admit it. You've put your finger on a great big problem. And it's one worth talking about.

0. K., Grandfather, let's start all over again. Why don't people like internal auditors?

First, let's make sure we know which people we're talking about. Since the internal auditor is the eyes and ears of top management, he's appreciated by the top managers just like you appreciate your own eyes and ears. So which people are we really talking about? We're talking about those people who are made afraid by internal auditors.

Why should people be afraid?

You didn't hear me Randy. I didn't say be afraid. I said made afraid.

Who makes them afraid?

Actually, it may very well be the internal auditor himself who makes them afraid.

Why should he do that?

He may not know any better; or if he does, he's not taking the time to work at his relationships with people. Sometimes, without even knowing it he can get very abrasive. You know, rub people the wrong way.

But here you've been telling me how smart internal auditors are, Grandfather.

They are. Technically. But they're not always that smart when it comes to dealing with people.

I guess I just can't see why people should be afraid of someone who isn't their boss.

Because you don't quite understand how important people consider the internal auditor to be. His report goes all the way upstairs, and when he gets critical about something, there's a good chance that somebody will get a good going over by the boss.

It's hard for me to put myself in their place, Grandfather.

Well, let me see if I can make you understand. Let's say you're a big league pitcher. You do it for a living. You're pitching in a game. The umpire is not only calling balls and strikes as you pitch - this particular umpire will make a written report to the owner of the ball club on how you performed. And your salary and your very job may be affected. What would you think of that umpire?

I'd hate him!

Now do you understand?

Sure do. But it's not really the same is it?

Not really, although it's pretty close.

But the umpire doesn't care if the ball player doesn't like him. Why should the internal auditor?

There's an important difference between the umpire and the internal auditor. The umpire knows the game completely. He does his job and doesn't have to ask questions. With the internal auditor it's always a new ball game and there is always a new set of rules. To learn those rules he must ask questions and get cooperation in order to get to the truth. As a matter of fact he can't even start to do a good job without getting the goodwill of the people he's to audit so that they'll help him.

So why doesn't he act real nice, Grandfather?

A number of reasons. Some internal auditors may have peculiar notions about their importance; others may really get a kick out of scaring people.

That's awful.

Sure is. And the cure for that is for his chief auditor to set him down real hard. That's a relatively easy cure. But even if they get over being tough guys, they may still not know how to deal with people. In fact, there are internal auditors who go into an organization with the best of intentions, but just don't know how to win the good will of the people whose help they need.

Why?

Maybe because they never attended Indian Guide meetings.

Now you're pulling my leg, Grandfather.

Not entirely. Do you remember what Big Chief Golden Arrow told you about judging people?

Oh, yes. He said "Do not judge a man until you have walked for one day in his moccasins."

Very good. What does it mean?

It means you should try to put yourself in somebody else's place before you can really understand him or have the right to criticize him.

Precisely. And unless an internal auditor does that he'll be doing two things that are dead wrong.

What are they?

First, he'll be getting people upset. Second, he won't get his job done right.

You'll have to explain that, Grandfather.

O.K. Let me start off with an important word: Defensiveness.

I know the word. But what does it mean here?

It means trying to protect yourself. In this case, protect yourself against the auditor.

Why?

Because the people being audited see the auditor as a threat. They see him as someone who will uncover their mistakes, hold them up to ridicule, tell on them to their bosses. They get filled with anxiety and become deadly afraid of disapproval - which nobody likes.

I know. Like my Mom says she'll tell Dad that I was mean to my sister Karen. But do adults with important jobs have any reason to feel that way?

Sometimes they do. When the auditors they've met or heard about go around doing things the wrong way.

What things?

For one, making a person lose face.

What in the world is that?

Humiliating someone in front of others. Do you remember the time you were playing shortstop and you let a ball roll between your legs in the big game?

I'll never forget it.

What did the coach say?

He called me a bandy-legged, butter-fingered, thimble-headed, miserable excuse for a ball player - in front of the other players.

Then what happened?

All the other kids laughed at me, and I wanted to crawl into a hole.

Right. You lost face in front of people whose respect you wanted. Besides, did it improve your game?

No. I wanted to quit baseball.

Exactly. His attitude made you defensive and didn't help you in the least. Another thing that makes people defensive is getting into a win-or-lose argument with them. Making a flat statement of fact, and not backing off or giving somebody else a chance to back off.

Like me and Karen sometimes.

Perhaps. But you can see how childish that would be for grown-ups who are not just playing games but who are trying to work out business problems. Another thing is being petty. Picking up little errors and making a big thing about them.

Like when my Mom punishes me for not doing my chores.

Let's not get into that, young man! Another error is trying to show people how much smarter you are than they are. Using some piece of knowledge to make somebody else feel stupid.

Any more?

Not taking into account the problems a person has on his job. Not giving him credit for really trying. In short, not trying to walk in his moccasins.

So an auditor has to be a sort of a, uh, psycho, huh Grandfather?

I believe the word you're groping for is psychologist. But you're quite right.

Is there anything the auditor should do to keep people from getting all upset and defensive?

Yes indeed, there are plenty of things he can do.

Tell me some of them.

Well, it all begins before the internal auditor ever sets foot in the place where he'll make his audit. He starts with a friendly phone call to the department manager, telling him when he'll arrive, assuring him he'll try to upset routines as little as possible, and generally putting the manager at ease. If the manager is nervous, all his people will be too.

Say, that's right. When my Mom gets real mad, Karen and I sure have to watch out.

Exactly. Then, when the auditor comes to the department and gets introduced to everyone, he should have one thought uppermost in his mind.

What's that?

He should keep telling himself: "I'm a guest in their house."

Why?

Because that thought will affect his whole attitude. It just has to. The very expression on an auditor's face is different when he acts like a guest and not like a tough cop.

That's true. When I stay overnight at my friend's house I always act exceptionally polite.

That's not too salutary a commentary, but let it pass. Now back to the auditor. Whenever he talks to people, asks questions, or asks for directions, he should be friendly and respectful - whether he's talking to the lowest clerk or to the manager of the department.

Won't they think he's sort of putting himself down and actually lose their respect?

Not if he respects himself. Not if he knows his business, has done his homework, and has carefully thought out his questions, as every good auditor should. No indeed. As time goes by, he will be respected more and more. But at the very beginning, the thing to do is calm fears.

How can he calm fears if he's an expert auditor and finds a lot of things wrong?

Good question. I agree that if things are wrong he'd better find out about them. But there too there's the wrong way and the right way.

What's the wrong way?

You'd find things are wrong, go straight to the manager without even talking to the person who made the mistake, tell him one of his people did something stupid, and then watch while the poor person, maybe only a clerk, is bawled out. That will really tear it.

What's the right way?

You go to the clerk. You tell the clerk that you were looking at the system. That you're interested in the whole system and not just individual errors. The errors are important only if they tell you something about the system. You say that you're trying to understand how things work and that you're sure the clerk will help to explain it. That you're trying to solve a problem and you need the clerk's help in solving it. Then the clerk and you are on the same problem-solving team.

Gee, Grandfather. The clerk shouldn't be mad in that case.

It's not the "mad" so much as the "afraid." When you concentrate on the broad problem rather than on the error, you're getting away from the thing that causes fear - the fear of having the clerk's errors paraded for all to see. The system is beyond the clerk's control, so the clerk is not personally involved in it. Besides, now you have the clerk on your team.

You've been talking about clerks, Grandfather. How about people like engineers or scientists.

The same is largely true. But here the auditor tries to keep away from questioning technical matters, at least at first. He concentrates on business systems, controls, and administration, where he's an expert. He goes at his job in the same scientific manner as the engineer. And if he does it well, he'll get the respect of the engineer or scientist. If he's gentlemanly, open, and respectful, he'll get their good will too.

How about the department manager. Is he afraid?

Yes, in a way. You probably have him worried too.

But he needs another approach.

What's that?

The first meeting is important. You should prepare well for it. Put him at his ease. Tell him you have a job to do. But in doing it you feel two obligations. One - the obligation you're paid for - which is to report to top management on findings.

Won't that get him all upset, right off?

Not if you follow that with the second obligation: That you feel obliged to leave every place you work in a little better than you found it. You tell him that you'll talk over all findings with him right away ... that he'll get a chance to correct anything that needs correction before the report goes out. You emphasize that top management isn't concerned with deficiencies if they find that they're already corrected as they read the report. You tell him that you're interested in forming a problem-solving partnership, not playing at a cops and robbers game.

That's pretty much like what you told the clerk.

People are people. It will work with both. Then you tell him that you'll keep him fully informed as the audit goes on. Ask him if he's having problems with other organizations that you can help him with. And then there's one method that always works well.

What's that?

Try to report something good as soon as possible. When a part of the audit is completed and it looks good, tell the manager you want to talk about progress. Then tell him about the good things. Also, if possible, say you found some minor errors, but that they didn't amount to anything and they're not worth reporting. That usually goes over big.

Wouldn't the people like the auditor more if he didn't find any wrong things at all?

Strangely enough, no. If people know that there are things wrong and the auditor doesn't find them, they have no respect for him.

That's funny.

Look at it this way. Would you rather get a B+ on a real hard examination than an A+ on a ridiculously easy one?

I'd rather get the B+.

You're right. And the people audited have a lot more respect for an auditor who is thorough, professional, finds the things that are wrong, and helps them improve conditions than for one who doesn't. But I must qualify that.

What do you mean?

The auditor must be open. If he's going to bring something to the attention of the big boss he should tell that to the people under the big boss. He must be fair. He shouldn't say something is somebody's fault if they had no responsibility for it. He shouldn't be petty, by concentrating on little mistakes. He should be objective, and not make up his mind before he has the facts he needs. He must see the big picture, the systems and controls, ways to improve things, not just mistakes.

Can people get to like the internal auditor?

Yes, if he really works at it. He'll have to recognize that people who are afraid are defensive, that they don't want to be made to look foolish. But they'll respect an auditor who does a first-class job. They'll get to admire him for his ability to learn new ball games and new rules so quickly. And they may even be grateful if he shows them easier and better ways to do things, or works out some of the problems that have been bothering them - problems they couldn't work out themselves.

I guess knowing about defensiveness is real important, Grandfather. Are there any other important words the auditor should know when he deals with people?

Yes, indeed. The word is perception.

What does that mean?

It means being able to see - not just looking - but really seeing and understanding. In this case it means seeing through the eyes of somebody else.

Why do you have to do that?

Because people don't see merely through their eyes. They see through their feelings, through their background, through their education, through what their parents told them, and through everything they ever did. Let me give you an example. What do you think of when I say "Dog."

I think of Popi, my black poodle.

And I think of Caesar, a monstrous dog I had when I was about your age.

I get it.

And that was such a simple question. Imagine the answers the internal auditor gets when he asks questions about real complicated things.

So the auditor should try to put himself in somebody else's moccasins when he asks questions, huh Grandfather?

Exactly.

What are some of the things he can do?

He's got to remember that when somebody likes you personally they'll like to help you. If they don't like you they won't like to help you.

How will remembering that help the auditor?

First, his attitude in asking questions. As he tries to find out what's going on, he should listen to absorb, to learn. He should not be making mental value judgments while he listens.

What are those?

He should not be mentally criticizing what somebody is saying. It will show on his face and it will immediately make people fearful. He should look interested, sympathetic, and understanding. Then people will want to talk to him. They'll want to tell him all they know. It seems funny, but when people get to talk to a patient, interested, sympathetic auditor, the only problem is finally turning them off. And as they talk themselves out fully and completely, the auditor can begin to see through their eyes and walk in their moccasins.

What else?

As in the case of Popi, recognize that words have different meanings to different people. Try to understand the other fellow's particular meaning.

I see. Like saying "pool" to a swimmer and to a billiard player.

Right. And when you disagree with someone, avoid a win-or-lose type of argument. Don't say "It must be this way or else." Use words like "From my point of view," or "The way I see it." Those little phrases can make a big difference in preventing conflict.

You mean, instead of telling Karen she's dumb, I should say "The way I see it you're dumb?"

That's not what I mean and you know it. Pay attention, now. Make sure that the other person knows that you really want to understand what he has to say, whether you agree with him or not. When you want to understand, it will show in yours eyes, in your entire expression, and the other person will feel it and be willing to meet you half way.

You mean I really have to listen to Karen?

You bet. There'd be fewer fights if you did. Now here's a subtle one: Understand that when a person feels you are criticizing him, it will make him defensive and possibly argumentative, and that this in turn may make you counter-defensive to him. If you know that this is coming, you can be prepared to be soothing instead of counter-defensive.

Everything you've said is very interesting, Grandfather. Could you put it all together for me now?

Surely. And to advance your education I'll use some of the terms the semanticists use.

The who?

The semanticists. The people who study communication between people - the people who know about speaking and hearing and listening and understanding.

0. K. But please explain the words.

In substance, what the auditor is trying to do is to change the climate that usually surrounds people when they find they're about to be audited or questioned.

Change the climate? What do you do, take them to Palm Springs?

Of course not. I'm being figurative. Certain attitudes create a defensive climate - cold, hostile, antagonistic. We've already talked about defensiveness. Other attitudes create a supportive climate - warm, helpful, pleasant. And it means just that - to help. It's the opposite of defensive.

What kinds of attitudes do you mean?

First, there's neutrality. It creates a defensive climate, because the neutral person is cold, distant, lacking in real concern over a listener's welfare. On the other hand, empathy creates a supportive climate. Empathy means putting yourself in somebody else's place, feeling his feelings, walking in his moccasins.

Like if the assistant coach came to me after I missed the ball and said, "I know how you feel. I've had it happen to me. It's no fun muffing a ball. But if you were to stoop and turn one knee in across the path of the ball, it couldn't roll between yours legs." Like that, Grandfather?

Exactly like that, Randy. Then there's evaluation. That means looking as if you're judging and criticizing when you get answers to your questions. That's defensive. On the supportive side is description - merely describing without criticizing. It means an honest request for information. No criticism, no judging - just a sincere interest in gaining knowledge.

What else?

Another defensive attitude is superiority. That means acting as if you're better or smarter than somebody else. You just don't get any information or help in that climate. But equality is supportive. It shows mutual trust. It forms a problem-solving partnership. The difference in status between you and the other fellow - if there is a difference - is made to seem unimportant.

Like when that wise-guy first baseman said he had such a great arm and would show me how to throw a ball. He was so superior that I wouldn't even listen to him, even if he was better than me.

Correct. There is also control. It means trying openly to influence someone or ask him to change. By asking someone to change you're implying that he's inadequate. And that immediately raises defenses. On the supportive side is problem orientation - meaning getting together to work out answers to questions, or, as I said before, forming a problem solving partnership.

But Grandfather, one of the things the auditor must do is make people change some of their ways. How can he get his job done if he can't make people change from doing things wrong to doing them right?

Very good, my boy. But remember that sometimes a supportive attitude can cancel the effect of a defensive one. For example, use equality along with control. Try to get things changed, but do it through problem-solving.

It seems to me that if an auditor understood all that and practiced it, nobody would object to him.

Exactly. Even though people may still not like to be audited. Any more than you like the doctor to take blood samples from you.

Ugh!!

But since people know they must be audited, they'd rather the auditor was somebody who did it with as little suffering as possible than somebody who makes them defensive, who isn't perceptive, who doesn't even make an attempt to walk in their moccasins, and who looks as if he owns their house instead of acting like a guest in their house.

And it makes it easier for the next auditor too, doesn't it, Grandfather?

You bet, Randy. One giant step for him, and one small step for all internal auditing.


Audit Wisdom