Anymore, most people I work with, talk with, consort with, or deal with in some capacity or the other are aware I have this blog. And, if they have ever read it (and, trust me, that reduces the numbers by an appreciable amount) they know that much of the fodder for these blog posts comes from the real world.
With that in mind, you might think that people would be afraid to make even the merest of utterance in my presence. (I am reminded of David Sedaris’ comment that he writes essays about his family so much that they are afraid to hang around anymore.) But, surprisingly, I don’t think anyone is holding back. I like to think that one of the reasons is they feel I do a pretty good job of maintaining anonymity when anonymity is required.
If there is no harm, I’m more than happy to give credit where credit is due. As an example, I’ve got a partially written post about Maslow’s hierarchy of audit client needs that came out of a discussion I had with a group of auditors working for my good friend James Hansen. I think some important things came out of that discussion, and I’m trying to articulate them in the best way possible. Hence, the long interval between discussion and publishing of the blog post. But, none of it would have ever come up if the group had not been having a very robust discussion as a part of training I was delivering. And I only bring up James’ name (and his group) because I know he won’t mind, it was positive aspect of the already positive training that occurred, and I believe they deserve some credit for helping drive what will come from that discussion.
Now, in other situations, I’ve tried to do my best to maintain the anonymity of the guilty, the not guilty, and the somewhere in between.
After the publishing of one of my columns in the magazine, I was having lunch with an auditor I had worked with at Farmers Insurance. His first question was “which auditors in Farmers were you talking about?” I quickly (and honestly) told him that none of the examples had come from my Farmers audit experiences. I’m not sure what that says about the auditors the gentleman was currently working with, but I see it as evidence that I do a pretty good job of disguising identities when such obfuscation is necessary.
But, if you are any kind of auditor at all, this should be nothing new.
We live by the information we obtain. And only a small part of the valuable information comes from the audits we do. The truly valuable information comes from the casual conversations — the ad hoc meetings; the hallway how’s-it-goings; the “Is-anyone-sitting-here?” lunches; the cuss-discuss-and-bs after work at happy hours, dinners, bowling leagues (those still exist, don’t they?), or any other congregation of two or more employees where people open up and begin to talk about what is really going on. This is where we have the opportunity to get the information that leads to a real understanding of the organization, the employees who work in that organization, and the way the world works in and around it.
Looking back, I remember many times when someone would be talking to me and suddenly realize they were talking to “THE AUDITOR!” And I could see that look in their eyes as they began to recognize that what they were saying might come back to haunt them. It took a lot of work to build enough trust with the employees of the organization for them to ignore that realization and move forward, knowing that they were safe sharing just about anything with me without the ramifications coming back to ramify them.
That isn’t to say I ignored the information. If it was valuable and a part of what internal audit should be doing, then it was incorporated. But I did my best to protect the privacy of those involved. In more than one instance, my CAE asked how I happened to know something. And, if I explained that I really couldn’t divulge the source, then he accepted it and we moved on.
Internal auditors live on the facts and information they gain during their audits. But they thrive and grow on the casual information that comes from being in conversations that occur while being part of the organizational team. And that can only be obtained when those providing such information trust the auditors with the information and, in some instance, even their careers.
And, you know what, you might be surprised how much you can learn if you join the company bowling league.