Playing Nice

There are many aspects of auditing that are absolutely amazing.  Among them include gaining exposure and providing enlightenment. The exposure occurs by way of the various companies, industries, accounting practices and people you have the opportunity work with or around.  Contrary to exclusively working in accounts payable, audit allows you to see more aspects of the accounting cycle.  The enlightenment aspect, which is perhaps most important value added function auditors provide come about by way of a well run audit yielding recommendations for the client to improve their operations.  However, this last quality has a double edge.  In order to tell the client how they can become more efficient and effective in achieving their strategic goals, you inevitably have to tell them where their lacking.  From a top level management standpoint there is no problem.  If you tell the CEO of General Electric how to improve their receivables collection so they can lower their allowance for doubtful accounts they’re thrilled.  However, when you tell the person responsible for that function how to do their job better, well, it’s a little less than humbling experience.  Especially, as I learned, if you’re an intern telling a much older person where they’re deficient.

Beyond being dismissive and fairly sarcastic, they never fail to give you the impression you’re wasting their time. Unfortunately this is an experience that transcends the style of audit.  It occurs in internal and external audit.  Although from my vantage point the internal auditors have the disadvantage of having to preserve some semblance of a personal or working relationship with the employee they see daily rather being viewed as an annoying contractor that comes in once a year as many of my external auditor brethren have experienced.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the entire experience is remaining calm. While it may be a natural reaction to respond to a hostile client in a comparable fashion, it equates to a mutual failure.  The client or fellow employee in this case fails because and not accepting or at least considering the advice to improve their operations going forward, they view it through the lenses of someone being critical of them.  The auditor (me) would fail in this instance by reacting negatively because they allow minor personal disagreements to get in the way of the delivering the value they were brought there to add.  Further, it would also look very bad on my intern evaluation.

For all you aspiring auditors, or actually any aspiring consultant, always remember what you were brought there to carry out. Further, no matter how much the client’s personnel may upset you just remember that from your vantage point it always business, never personal.