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Mind of Jacka: Anger Beats Apathy

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Oct 05, 2023

Recently, I put together a blog post that, well, let’s just say started a bit of a kerfuffle, caused considerable consternation, opened a can of worms, sent a few heads spinning, threatened a rift in the universe, sounded the seven trumpets, released the kraken…

Okay, I overstate a bit. (As I did with my post; keep this in mind.) But it did result in a lot of comments.

The post was called “Get Off My Lawn” and in it I brashly, boldly, and brazenly expressed the opinion that remote work was inferior to working in the office. In fact, I went so far as to say that working remotely was ineffective.

And, with such words, the wrath of hordes descended upon me. Oh, there were a few who agreed, but most of the verbiage and attacks came directly from those ensconced in their work-from-home beliefs. My post also resulted in a well-thought-out and reasoned piece by David Hill, titled “Building a Better Auditor: In Defense of Remote Auditing.” An excellent counterargument.

A good, lively discussion ensued — a discussion that needed to occur regarding this important subject.

But here is the thing many readers seemed to have missed. My piece was an exercise in hyperbole. I expressed an exaggerated position — an opinion that was more extreme than my actual beliefs — to drive home my points. (Take that, you Visigoths who claimed I was stuck in a past that includes abacuses, findings with no solutions, and bayonets to be used on the wounded.)

Why would I do such a thing? Why go to such extremes? Well, at the risk of sounding like some of our worst news outlets, if I had tempered my comments by giving both sides of the argument, little would have happened. No discussion, no counterpoints, the sound of crickets. Maybe a few likes, a few disagreements, but no discussion. In fact, I have previously provided what I consider to be balanced opinions on this subject and, well, my guess is no one noted nor long remembered what I said there.

And allow me to back up a second to provide some relevant background. The origin of the piece came when another auditor and I were discussing remote work. I was trying to be balanced as I made my points and responses. I realized it was getting nowhere. I further realized that, by trying to be fair and balanced, real discussion wasn’t happening. Bland and bias-free was not getting my points across. Then the epiphany. I realized how often I find myself writing these blog posts taking a stand in the middle, even when I don’t quite believe the middle is the right place to be.

And so, a blog post filled with hyperbole was born… as was significant discussion.

Now, this rehashing would have little purpose if it were only meant to provide an unapologetic explanation for what I did, induce more clicks on our two blog posts, or get everyone riled up again. No. Instead, let’s talk about your reports and how your clients react.

We’ve all had situations where clients got mad reading our audit reports. But I’ll wager such anger was not the result of the actual content — what was found, what was wrong, what could and could not be supported. Instead, it is usually just that you are saying “bad things” about them or their department.

Which raises an interesting point. Do your clients ever have an emotional reaction (anxiety, anger, excitement, etc.) based on them reading the report and recognizing that something needs to be done? No anger at internal audit; rather, emotion that a problem was allowed to reach this point and an emotion triggering them to do something... now!

If such reactions are few and far between, then whose fault is that? (Hint: Shakespeare warned us, “The fault… is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”) 

Let’s get to the answer by asking two more questions. Question 1: if your clients aren’t getting angry, are they paying attention? Or have you sugarcoated the findings to such a degree that, in an effort to be kind and gentle, you take the middle road so much that no one (not even you) can see a problem anymore? Do the clients placidly read the audit reports and say, “Sounds good,” with no indication that they have a passion about the problems and the solutions?

Which leads to question 2: Can the clients tell you are passionate about what you are presenting?

Wait. Let’s look at a question behind that question. Are you passionate about what you are presenting? Because, if you don’t care about what you are sharing, why should anyone else care? If you don’t care, step back and take a look. Is it that you can’t get excited about the overall project? Then the question becomes, was the project worth doing? Did you understand why it was assigned/why it was important? And, if it was important, what happened between caring about the project and reporting the results? Did passion even exist in the first place and, if so, when and where did it disappear?

Once you are sure you are passionate about what you are presenting (and, again, you’d better be), go back to that original question. Can the client tell you are passionate? Is it obvious that you care and that you are trying to make things better? Again, in our efforts to seem like we are being fair and balanced, we sometimes forget our message is not about everyone getting along, but a call to action. Something important needs to get done, and our passion needs to come through.

If we have such passion and if we want our clients to feel it, we need to look at our reports and determine if we are taking a middle road when that middle road is not the right answer. We need to make sure we aren’t hiding behind words, kindness, and balance in such a way that our message dies in the strangulation of gentleness.

I am not advocating hyperbole in your reporting, meetings, or conversations — I am not saying you should intentionally cause a ruckus. But I am asking that you look at your approach when communicating issues and concerns. Are you working too close to the middle of the road? Are you shying away from the real story because it might paint internal audit as the bad guys, as people who just aren’t part of “the team”?

Getting along is fine. Relationship management is a cornerstone of internal audit’s success. But, if there is never any emotion, then you are doing something wrong. Make sure that, every once in a while, you’ve made the clients mad.

And, you know, while you’re at it… get off my lawn!!!

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Mike Jacka is co-founder and chief creative pilot of Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.