A cow in Willesden

Public psychotherapy for a veteran auditor

Informed Consent

This week I am mostly … in the garden. The garden of managing expectations, that is!

The most exasperating part of my job is discovering the mistaken and often bizarre assumptions that clients hold about the audit process and their role therein. A corollary is just as exasperating (slightly undermining my hyperbolic start to this paragraph) – simple messages that clients seem unable to understand or unwilling to commit to memory.

“That’s great Bob, but can you be more specific?” I hear you say? Well Ok, you’ve twisted my arm.

Rating Issues. We line up our finding against the standard matrix of likelihood and impact, read off the coordinates, and find the rating that’s in the box, then we check its not given us a bum steer, because there are at least 57 ways to avoid following guidance (according to an old law professor named Twining, I must remember to pick up that book if they sell it here). That’s basically an exercise in reading a chart, and overseen by experienced professionals to make sure its consistent with our overall approach. So why do clients take it as an open invitation to barter? Why is there confusion over such a simple process? And sometimes you get to a turning point, where you realise that a deep misunderstanding of the audit process is at the heart of the problem. And you have that difficult discussion, slightly embarrassed at needing to explain such simple concepts to someone so smart, demonstrating how the ratings are ultimately based on our professional judgement, so even if we can’t persuade you of why it’s the right rating, it nevertheless is the right rating.

And the message gets through, and the report is agreed and you’ve made a breakthrough and everyone’s happy. And 6 months later you have another report with the same client, and they start hard-ball negotiating the ratings with you …

And another thing. I’ve asked clients to review a draft report and let me know any mistakes, and received back several hours worth of redrafting instead. They’ve obviously spent half a day going line-by-line through the report, the delete key and a library of management-speak at the ready, and turned the audit report into a holiday brochure. “The business is very well managed and provides a high-quality service to clients. Risks are very well managed, and even though 9 issues have been raised, these are just Audit being pedantic.”

I don’t know how the myth started, but there’s a vast amount of believers out there who think that the audit client gets to write our report for us, or at least change the tone and style of writing. I feel awful needing to tell the client that they’ve been wasting their time, that I’m looking for errors of fact or interpretation, and that not having seen any in their suggested wording, I’m going to leave the original intact. The frustrating thing is that I think I’ve been clear, I just haven’t accounted for the client being a subscriber to this underground newsletter of audit myths. Its almost too basic an assumption for me to think of it or mention it, until its too late.

And there’s other stuff. Like when a client has a document sitting on their desk, the title of which is more or less the same as one of the key risks we’re looking at, and you ask for it and they say “its still in draft, I’ll give you a copy in a fortnight when its been reviewed and signed off;” or they say “well its not my document, you’d need to ask the guy who sits next to me but is on leave today, because I can’t give it to you unless he says its OK;” or even “why do you need it, its not part of the audit. I’m not giving it to you until you show me which part of the audit its in.”

Or when you’ve agreed an issue with someone, and at the closing meeting they change their mind and start talking about other mitigating controls, and why they don’t really think its an issue.

And another one – I’ve got 2 emails here from the same guy, 18 months apart. He was promoted in the meantime. The first one is a complaint about sending a report to his boss without his approval (It had been on his desk for a couple of weeks, and I’d explicitly asked him to let the relevant people know about it). The other email, from the same person after his promotion, is giving off that we didn’t send him a report soon enough – even though its been with one of his direct reports for a month already, but they won’t agree to us sending it to him!

So anyway, with all these exasperations going around, I think its time to do something about it. And I’m doing something, in the form of a pamphlet. That’s right a pamphlet. There might even be pictures. There will be columns. And if I can find someone who can colour it in, it will be in colour. And it will make me happy, and it will get at least one of these basic misunderstandings out in the open, and possibly cleared up for good.

Tune in later for more rants and more words I had to look up in dictionary.com.


One response to “Informed Consent

  1. Pingback: Pamphleteer « A cow in Willesden

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