A cow in Willesden

Public psychotherapy for a veteran auditor

Sick, Lame and Lazy

That’s the phrase my games teacher had for the people who didn’t have to play proper sports on Wednesday afternoons with the rest of the school. He had a simple philosophy that anyone not doing Games fell into a single category, and the differences between them were trivial, by comparison to the loss their lives would be suffering without getting covered in mud and jumped on by bigger boys. A bit like Herod Jenkins, I imagine, in them Aberystwyth books.

Didn’t matter to him if you had forgotten your kit, or you had a note from your mum, or if both your legs were in plaster from injuries received at last week’s Games session.

If every school on the planet had the Jesuits running their Games/PE classes, we’d have settled our national differences years ago and be living in harmony, colonising the moon. We’d also see a better standard of competition in the Rugby world cup.

But I’m guessing that most of my audit clients had softer games teachers. Because they seem to have learned that excuses are important, and that how you deliver your excuse is more important than what the excuse is.

Its not just clients, of course, although that’s the source of the most bizarre ones. Auditors give excuses all the time, but this isn’t a blog about poor auditing. Not yet anyway.

I mean, they aren’t really part of our job, excuses. We’re trying to present an objective assessment of risk, highlighting where there are gaps and exposures. We’re not passing judgement on whether the clients should or shouldn’t have done better.

In reality, though, I’d say excuses make up about a quarter of the job we do. That’s a big waste of effort in my opinion.

Example.

Auditor : so I’m here to follow up on the issues we raised last year. From my testing, it seems that the issue hasn’t been resolved, we still have a high level of exceptions in this key control process.

Manager : well we implemented the action, and also we found that the issue really wasn’t that clear.

Auditor : so you didn’t understand the issue?

Manager : we looked at it and decided that we could accept the risk, its really not a problem

Auditor : OK, so just let me corroborate that. Was the decision written down, who made the decision, and can I just get some assurance that they understood the risk that they were accepting? We thought at the time that it was a key control, which I think was the consensus in your team at the time of the audit.

Manager : It wasn’t in writing, but you don’t need to look at that, because we did the action anyway

Auditor : I see, but if you decided to accept the risk, why did you spend resources to implement the action?

Manager : look, we did what we said we’d do, so I think you have to close the issue

Auditor : But I can’t close the issue when the action hasn’t fixed the issue. But if its not a key control, we can look into that assessment and if I can validate that, of course I can close the issue.

Manager : but the issue wasn’t very clear. It said that the process needed changing, so we changed the process.

Auditor (through clenched teeth) : the issue was perfectly clear when we discussed it and when I drafted it, but you argued and delayed and reworded and stalled and complained until I watered down the wording so we could get you to agree so we could issue the darn report within 6 months of finishing the fieldwork! Which is it? Are you saying you fixed the issue, or are you saying it isn’t an issue, or are you saying that I’ve forgotten what the issue was?

Manager : All of them?

Jeez these people are dangerous to do business with. These people who cover their R’s at all costs, probably spending hours every day making sure they’ve got excuses lined up for all the stuff they did badly last week, while they were too busy making excuses for the week before. Acting friendly and cooperative as long as you can help them, but when you’re staring at a black and white, clear as day dereliction of their duty, and you can’t in good conscience compromise to save their skin, they drop you in it as quick as anything.

Would love to put them in a rugby jersey and send them along to Mr Crossingham with their excuses. They’d be on detention for a month.

6 responses to “Sick, Lame and Lazy

  1. JRN February 22, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Kind of like “I haven’t seen that in prior scopes so why are you covering it this time” or “it wasn’t in your scope document so you shouldn’t be looking at it”.

    About management responses “audit said we should do this action” rather than “management agree this is an issue / risk and have implemented…”

    • A Cow in Willesden February 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Yeah, that’s a good example.
      Its one of the many ways that people can find to explain why they haven’t done what they should. There are hundreds, and I’m with Mr Crossingham in thinking that they are all pretty much the same – that doing your job should be your main exertion in the work place, rather than covering your tracks.
      That particular example I gave you is a shortened version of an actual conversation I had with a client a while ago. Staggering mentatlity, quite incredible that they are able to hold down a job with such an emphasis on excuses and such little actual productivity or progress towards an outcome.

  2. Sheep from Islington March 2, 2011 at 6:06 am

    Hi Cow!
    Enjoying the wisdom.
    Baa!

  3. Do More Now March 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Is it fair to say that the Excuse is a self-defensive way to cope with one’s own shortcomings. Instead, as your Games teacher once said, maybe we should all just admit to ourselves that we are sick, lame, and / or lazy. At least then things could have a chance to get better.

    Nice post, good quote, cool blog title, keep em coming.

    BTW, Willesdon, Florida?

    • A Cow in Willesden March 8, 2011 at 8:36 am

      Thanks for the comment – enjoyed your blog too.

      I think the main problem i have with excuses is that they don’t really matter. If you haven’t achieved the result, it really doesn’t matter why not. Its the difference between the customer facing angle (did they get what they wanted or needed from me) versus the selfish angle (did I go through a reasonable process and can I argue with someone who says I didn’t get the job done).

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