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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Love Your Integrity? Love Your Auditor!

If you're in the business world more than five minutes you've probably been audited or even investigated. This experience ranges from when you started running a cash register in an entry-level position and having someone spot-balance your till, all the way up to having an auditor or investigator dispatched to investigate some perceived or suspected irregularity. My first response to this as a junior staff member was to be offended; after all, I know my integrity and intentions so what makes someone think otherwise? As you grow your career and have staff, especially if you have a hand-picked and trusted staff like I have, its easy to take up their cause and be offended on their behalf. The plain truth is that this is one area where you have to grow thick skin and love your auditors as yourself.

Not only should you not mind audits or investigations (this is assuming you're conducting your business as you should be) but you should welcome them. Here's why:
  1. Audits Protect You From Rumors - No matter where you work or what you do, people are going to gossip and its not always going to be charitable. At times that gossip is going to turn to suspicions about your honesty or integrity. Being periodically audited, and welcoming those audits each and every time, blunts the gossip and never allows it to gain traction.
  2. Audits Help You Get Better - I've never had an audit or investigation of any kind that showed an irregularity or dishonesty, but every audit I've ever had showed me some area of needed improvement. If you can effectively shake off the righteous indignation from being audited, and focus instead on what needs to be improved, you get better at what you do.
  3. Audits Build Your Brand - If they're done right, and unfortunately they aren't always, completed and clean audits build your personal brand and reputation among the auditors. This also leads to less frequent audits.
  4. You Really Have No Other Choice - Being audited or investigated is a win/lose proposition with no viable middle option. If you welcome the scrutiny and come away with nothing worse than a list of things you could do better, you win. If you come away with this same list but resist and object, the auditors walk away mumbling to themselves and others that they still have suspicions because of how you objected. In that case, the brand damage is done without just cause and, really, you did that to yourself through your reaction.

That said, here's a word to auditors.

  1. Your purpose is to make sure the business is operating smoothly and efficiently. Its not to catch someone doing something wrong, although clearly that should be reported should you find it.
  2. You have a responsibility to be respectful of the chain of command and inform HR and the department head of the area being audited of your activities in advance. You don't have "super jurisdiction" that allows you to unilaterally snoop on suspicion.
  3. You have a responsibility to be accurate and to conduct your audit thoroughly. You have no less than people's reputations and livelihoods on the line and sloppy work should be intolerable.
  4. You have a responsibility to accept the results of your own audit and not continue to mouth unproven suspicions about the people who you investigate.

Properly authorized and executed scrutiny should be a blessing to the organization in which its done. It should be conducted in a way that brings honor to the organization, and it should be welcomed by those being scrutinized as a chance to build your brand and that of the company. If everyone is doing what they should, facts are truly friendly.

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