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Mind of Jacka: Prompt Versus Remind

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Mar 09, 2023

It’s one of my pet peeves about report writing. And I read it again, this time from an expert whose opinion I greatly respect. There it was in black and white, a discussion on how the final report should prompt the reader to action.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.

There was a time in the past when this might have been true. But in the past, it was also true that all work was done on real paper workpapers, corrective actions were not required, internal auditors all wore suits and ties (because there were no women), wars were fought over how many auditors could dance on the head of a tick mark, Vikings ruled the seas, Visigoths stormed the castle, dinosaurs ruled the earth, and internal auditors literally bayonetted the wounded. (That’s how I was awarded the Most High Bronze Mechanical Pencil for Meritorious Duty.)

However, if you are still using the report to prompt the reader into taking action, you have already lost the battle. You have abdicated your responsibility to improve operations. And you are allowing the client (or is auditee a better term in this instance?) one more excuse to put off getting things done.

The report is a reminder to everyone of what has occurred — a record of agreement. This includes everyone knowing what needs to be done, everyone agreeing to do it, and, in the best situations, everyone already getting started on getting it done. (If it was a big enough problem to report, why wait for the report to be issued?)

But, the misleading advice that the report is meant to prompt action seems to still improperly resonate with many internal auditors. And, at its worst, this debilitating affliction manifests itself in those departments that still issue reports without any agreed upon corrective action. Not just “prompting them to take action” but prompting them to consider what action to take — sitting back and hoping a solution magically appears.

The excuse I hear is that waiting for corrective action would delay the issuance of the report. Take a second, walk around that one, and get a look at it from all sides. Here’s what jumps out to me. There is not enough rapport with the client to get solutions. There is not enough urgency on the client’s part to get it done. And the audit department cares more for its milestones than solutions.

Milestones, due dates, measures of success — the tail wagging the dog. What an excuse…not obtaining agreed upon corrective action because it will delay the report. You know what else causes reports to get delayed? Review notes, tests, interviews, meetings, risk assessment. Come to think of it, imagine how much work we could do, and how quickly we could do it, if we just left everything out.

When no agreed-upon corrective action is obtained, we see an audit department with issues reaching deep within the department, the organization, and the culture. If this is the game you are playing, pump the brakes to a full stop and take a good, hard look at what is occurring. Because you’re not living up to your potential and the department is not living up to its potential — nor providing the value any internal audit department should be providing.

But don’t look at the above and start tsk-tsking about that mote in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring the “reports prompt action” beam in your own. The report should be intended to do nothing more than document agreement and, in the process, remind people of what they agreed to. Prompting to action is a symptom that “real” agreement may not have been achieved. The report has nothing to do with prompting. The work should be completed before the report is issued.  Everyone — everyone — should agree on the steps that are going to be taken.

You are the one who is prompting the client to take action, not the report. You are prompting to action in every step of the project. You are explaining how the work will be done, you are showing what the work has found, you are providing information on why work needs to be done differently, and you are providing the client the impetus to take action.

Words on paper do nothing but memorialize. Your actions, your decisions, and your words are what lead to effective, completed solutions.

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.