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Mind of Jacka: Smile and the World Smiles With You

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Feb 24, 2022

In the game of motivation, there are two basic approaches — create satisfaction and eliminate dissatisfaction. Here's why eliminating dissatisfaction is the more powerful of the two.

Mike Jacka says in order to motivate a team, eliminating barriers to motivation is a necessary first step.

Mind of Jacka: Smile and the World Smiles With You

In March, I will be presenting at "The Conference That Counts" in Albany, New York, a conference I've spoken at a number of times and one of my favorites (in spite of it being held in what this Phoenix native considers the middle of winter.) One of my presentation topics is "Managing and Motivating Your Audit Team."

(And to any of you who may be attending TCTC, consider this a preview.)

Now, right off the bat, I'm not much for the whole concept of managing an audit team. I'm not sure you can successfully "manage" people. However, since I'm the one who came up with the title, I guess I'll have to live with it. However, that means that most of my presentation will focus on motivation. To my mind, motivation is how you effectively manage as well as lead people.

Within that presentation is one of my favorite slides. Six words. "The Draining Impact of Audit Procedures." My more succinct way of saying that I don't believe any of us can really effectively motivate our teams and the people around us until we are willing to see how our own policies, procedures, and practices drain motivation from the room.

You see, in the game of motivation, there are two basic approaches — create satisfaction and eliminate dissatisfaction. And, unfortunately, we all seem to focus on that whole "satisfaction" thing, forgetting the dissatisfaction aspect. And I think eliminating dissatisfaction is more powerful than all the work we put into our sometimes-feeble attempts to create satisfaction.

Not to get all techy here, but a look at theories on motivation (Maslow, Herzberg, et al.) reveals they are based on the premise that you can't move up the pyramid (as Maslow would have us look at it) until some basic things are taken care of. You have to eliminate the barriers to motivation (eliminate dissatisfaction) before you can actually motivate (create satisfaction).

(Rereading this, it feels a little like I swallowed a textbook, but hang in there with me.) Accordingly, to motivate our audit teams, we should focus on dissatisfiers as much or more than satisfiers. Which brings us back to audit procedures.

Get a group of auditors together and, invariably, after the sharing of many war stories (particularly if the auditors are involved in fraud investigations), you will start to hear whining and moaning about the procedural requirements that hinder their ability to get their work done. Spell checking workpapers that will only be read once, spending more time rewriting reports than will actually be spent reading them, detailing timekeeping with little more intent than assurance that every fifteen minutes is accounted for, requiring documentation that adds no value to the work, meeting to meet about the meeting that will meet about the upcoming meeting, reviewing the review of the reviewer who reviewed the review, the list goes on, and on, and on, and on.

Warning: If people are willing to share such stories in public it means such stories are only the tip of the iceberg; similar and more extensive whining and moaning is occurring within the audit department itself. It may not be obvious, you may not be hearing it, but it is definitely occurring.  And that is where leadership (actual or informal — I am talking to everyone here) needs to step up, get people together, and have open and honest discussions about the draining impact of audit procedures. Get the staff together in a safe, unfettered, non-scary environment, and have an honest, open discussion about what is going right and what is going wrong. What procedural requirements or managerial insistences are causing dissatisfaction. And how can they be changed?

Freeing auditors to do their work rather than follow procedures will go miles toward making a more effective, more motivated, and more satisfied workforce. Which leads to another interesting and related point about motivation. Whining and moaning effects everyone and, not surprisingly, happiness effects everyone.

I'm finally getting around to reading a book titled Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler. You might think this is just another book about social media. However, while it does have implications related to our use of social media, it is actually speaking to the much broader concept of the social relationships we develop and the impact of these networks on our lives.

The authors did research that showed that "a person is about 15 percent more likely to be happy if a directly connected person (at one degree of separation) is happy…The happiness effect for people at two degrees of separation (the friend of a friend) is 10 percent, and for people at three degrees of separation (the friend of a friend of a friend), it is about 6 percent."

Okay, happy people make happy people. That all seems fine and wonderful and rather touchy-feely. But what does that mean for internal audit? The elimination of the draining impact of audit procedures can be more effective than we thought. Based on the information above, eliminating this most dissatisfying of dissatisfiers can mean an increase in the happiness of every auditor. And that means there is the potential for everyone within one degree of separation, without any additional effort, of being happier. And there is the impact on those within two degrees. And there is the impact on those within three degrees.

It means that, not only can the morale of the department be improved but, possibly, even the organization. And this doesn't even take into account the impact on everyone's home and personal lives.

But let's look at another study, and a little proof that the elimination of dissatisfiers might be more effective than the establishment of misplaced satisfiers. What do I mean by that? Well, most of us realize that, while we try to put a bandage on issues through promotions, raises, and bonuses, they have a short-term effect at best. Don't get me wrong; not getting those things can be a big dissatisfier. But money doesn't cause the motivation most people expect.

Using happiness as a synonym for motivation once again, there was as a study done back in 1984 (and more recent studies have supported these findings; this just happens to be the one I have on hand right now) that showed that giving people an extra $5,000 in 1984 dollars (equating to about $13,000 today) has only a 2% chance of a making a person happier.

Work that one through with the stats we've already discussed. Giving someone $13,000 is less likely to make them happy — less likely — than if someone three degrees of separation from that person is made happier. The cascading effect of the elimination of dissatisfiers.

One last point. Earlier I mentioned informal leaders and how they also have a role in all this. Yes, it may seem harder to accomplish some of this when you aren't literally in charge. But it can be done. Act as a leader by finding what people think works and what doesn't work. Then take action to try and make a change. No, you may not have any authority, but that doesn't mean you do not have any power.  Remember, as an auditor, you have no authority, but you use your persuasive abilities to cause change in the organization. The situation within your own department is no different. Use those skills you have learned in internal audit and cause internal change.

Ultimately, there are none of us who have perfect audit procedures. They can always be changed and improved. And every step of change and improvement will eliminate one more barrier to employees' and co-workers' motivation. And the resulting satisfaction will spread.

Isn't it amazing how the smallest of ripples can sometimes cause the greatest, positive changes?

(And to any of you who may be attending TCTC, consider this a preview.)

Now, right off the bat, I'm not much for the whole concept of managing an audit team. I'm not sure you can successfully "manage" people. However, since I'm the one who came up with the title, I guess I'll have to live with it. However, that means that most of my presentation will focus on motivation. To my mind, motivation is how you effectively manage as well as lead people.

Within that presentation is one of my favorite slides. Six words. "The Draining Impact of Audit Procedures." My more succinct way of saying that I don't believe any of us can really effectively motivate our teams and the people around us until we are willing to see how our own policies, procedures, and practices drain motivation from the room.

You see, in the game of motivation, there are two basic approaches — create satisfaction and eliminate dissatisfaction. And, unfortunately, we all seem to focus on that whole "satisfaction" thing, forgetting the dissatisfaction aspect. And I think eliminating dissatisfaction is more powerful than all the work we put into our sometimes-feeble attempts to create satisfaction.

Not to get all techy here, but a look at theories on motivation (Maslow, Herzberg, et al.) reveals they are based on the premise that you can't move up the pyramid (as Maslow would have us look at it) until some basic things are taken care of. You have to eliminate the barriers to motivation (eliminate dissatisfaction) before you can actually motivate (create satisfaction).

(Rereading this, it feels a little like I swallowed a textbook, but hang in there with me.) Accordingly, to motivate our audit teams, we should focus on dissatisfiers as much or more than satisfiers. Which brings us back to audit procedures.

Get a group of auditors together and, invariably, after the sharing of many war stories (particularly if the auditors are involved in fraud investigations), you will start to hear whining and moaning about the procedural requirements that hinder their ability to get their work done. Spell checking workpapers that will only be read once, spending more time rewriting reports than will actually be spent reading them, detailing timekeeping with little more intent than assurance that every fifteen minutes is accounted for, requiring documentation that adds no value to the work, meeting to meet about the meeting that will meet about the upcoming meeting, reviewing the review of the reviewer who reviewed the review, the list goes on, and on, and on, and on.

Warning: If people are willing to share such stories in public it means such stories are only the tip of the iceberg; similar and more extensive whining and moaning is occurring within the audit department itself. It may not be obvious, you may not be hearing it, but it is definitely occurring.  And that is where leadership (actual or informal — I am talking to everyone here) needs to step up, get people together, and have open and honest discussions about the draining impact of audit procedures. Get the staff together in a safe, unfettered, non-scary environment, and have an honest, open discussion about what is going right and what is going wrong. What procedural requirements or managerial insistences are causing dissatisfaction. And how can they be changed?

Freeing auditors to do their work rather than follow procedures will go miles toward making a more effective, more motivated, and more satisfied workforce. Which leads to another interesting and related point about motivation. Whining and moaning effects everyone and, not surprisingly, happiness effects everyone.

I'm finally getting around to reading a book titled Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler. You might think this is just another book about social media. However, while it does have implications related to our use of social media, it is actually speaking to the much broader concept of the social relationships we develop and the impact of these networks on our lives.

The authors did research that showed that "a person is about 15 percent more likely to be happy if a directly connected person (at one degree of separation) is happy…The happiness effect for people at two degrees of separation (the friend of a friend) is 10 percent, and for people at three degrees of separation (the friend of a friend of a friend), it is about 6 percent."

Okay, happy people make happy people. That all seems fine and wonderful and rather touchy-feely. But what does that mean for internal audit? The elimination of the draining impact of audit procedures can be more effective than we thought. Based on the information above, eliminating this most dissatisfying of dissatisfiers can mean an increase in the happiness of every auditor. And that means there is the potential for everyone within one degree of separation, without any additional effort, of being happier. And there is the impact on those within two degrees. And there is the impact on those within three degrees.

It means that, not only can the morale of the department be improved but, possibly, even the organization. And this doesn't even take into account the impact on everyone's home and personal lives.

But let's look at another study, and a little proof that the elimination of dissatisfiers might be more effective than the establishment of misplaced satisfiers. What do I mean by that? Well, most of us realize that, while we try to put a bandage on issues through promotions, raises, and bonuses, they have a short-term effect at best. Don't get me wrong; not getting those things can be a big dissatisfier. But money doesn't cause the motivation most people expect.

Using happiness as a synonym for motivation once again, there was as a study done back in 1984 (and more recent studies have supported these findings; this just happens to be the one I have on hand right now) that showed that giving people an extra $5,000 in 1984 dollars (equating to about $13,000 today) has only a 2% chance of a making a person happier.

Work that one through with the stats we've already discussed. Giving someone $13,000 is less likely to make them happy — less likely — than if someone three degrees of separation from that person is made happier. The cascading effect of the elimination of dissatisfiers.

One last point. Earlier I mentioned informal leaders and how they also have a role in all this. Yes, it may seem harder to accomplish some of this when you aren't literally in charge. But it can be done. Act as a leader by finding what people think works and what doesn't work. Then take action to try and make a change. No, you may not have any authority, but that doesn't mean you do not have any power.  Remember, as an auditor, you have no authority, but you use your persuasive abilities to cause change in the organization. The situation within your own department is no different. Use those skills you have learned in internal audit and cause internal change.

Ultimately, there are none of us who have perfect audit procedures. They can always be changed and improved. And every step of change and improvement will eliminate one more barrier to employees' and co-workers' motivation. And the resulting satisfaction will spread.

Isn't it amazing how the smallest of ripples can sometimes cause the greatest, positive changes?

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.


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