On a more personal level, while I've found that the pandemic caused increased isolation, it also resulted in my reaching out to talk to friends — some I always talked to, some I sometimes talked to, and others I hadn't talked to for years.
One of the more enduring conversations has been among three of us who get together every month or so and just talk — about our lives, our families, internal audit, politics, life, the universe, and everything. It is a fun group because, besides the personalities involved, we all worked together at Farmers Insurance internal audit. And at various points, I worked for each one of them.
During our most recent conversation, we found ourselves in a rather heated debate regarding politics. Note that it speaks volumes about these friendships that we can have contradictory beliefs — can actually raise our voices at each other — and still, once the storm subsides, be good friends. No offense given; no offense taken. Just vigorous, if sometimes nonsensical, debate.
A little while after our circuitous two-hour Zoom call (a conversation that included planning our next trip to Yellowstone, a trip that will result in conversations much longer than the limitations a two-hour Zoom call allow), I thought back about my approach — how I handled the conversation, the underlying logic, and myself. And I saw a part of myself I did not like. I realized that, within short order, I had let myself be triggered by things that were said. I had quit debating, instead becoming the cliched, screaming talking head we see on various non-centrist "news" networks. Rather than letting logic and common sense drive my approach, I had let the triggers set off something within me that was primal, focused on winning by making the most noise. (That whole "trigger" thing comes up in a recent post "What Did You Say to Me?")
But here's the important part. I looked back and was able to see the traps I fell into — the words and concepts that set me off; the inappropriate responses; the skids, slips, and falls — that allowed the conversation to devolve. I identified the flaws and have determined to do better. (I have made such vows in the past, which has resulted in only random skeins of success, but the first step…)
Which brings us to every meeting, every conversation, every report, every walk down the hallway, every interaction that you, as an internal auditor, are involved with in all aspects of your work.
One of the most valuable and often overlooked tools in the business world is the post-mortem — the after-the-fact review to determine what when wrong, what went right, and what should be done in the future. My experience has shown that, while the tool is invaluable, it almost never appears in the internal audit world.
Oh, there may be the occasional discussion between an auditor and the lead, or the lead and a manager, or some one-on-one equivalent which is a cursory analysis of what occurred in the audit, usually focused on major issues that arose.
But what needs to happen is an in-depth analysis of the overall audit, a conversation that, at the very least, includes the entire team involved in the audit. Were the right risks identified? Were the right tests established? Were interviews conducted appropriately? Were walk-throughs effective? Where did communication breakdowns occur? How was the process expedited? Where did success occur? Who were the department's adversaries? Who were the department's advocates? Was the department able to develop a new set of raving fans? What went wrong? What went right? And how does all this impact the next audits that will be conducted? And maybe the entire team, not just those involved in the audit, should be invited. What might those people learn? What might those people contribute? How might this strengthen the team's skills and the overall camaraderie of the team?
Yeah, I know. You don't have the time. And often, the next audit (or next couple of audits) has already been started. And you need to work on those so they don't get delayed. And we make the same mistakes — the same conversational errors, the same relationship-damaging faux pas, the same stupid blunders we made in the past — that cause us to be unable to do the job we need to do.
Find the time; take the time.
But there is something more here, a deeper post-mortem that each and every one of us should explore. After every interaction — every meeting, every test, every interview, every walk-through, every report, every walk down the halls, every conversation — take a moment and think back about what occurred. What went right, what went wrong, was it successful, and the ultimate question, how can I make it better next time?
Hopefully, your internal post-mortem won't be about a situation as bad as the one I just had, but you should be learning from everything. And the best way to learn is to take a breath and think about what has just occurred. Take the time to know what happened and how "what happened" will make the next interaction better.