A Confession With a Moral

Recently, I was talking to a friend – an auditor – about his employment situation. To say he is burnt-out is probably an understatement. Based on what he has told me, the conditions within his company are not particularly good and the audit shop is in quite a few states of upheaval.  The only reason he is sticking around is to take advantage of some of the few remaining company benefits. And, sadly, part of his plan includes hoping that the company will have layoffs so he can get a severance package. (Think about that one for a moment – the company is in such a sorry state that employees’ career plans are based on hoping to be fired.) From what he has indicated, the company is not in a good situation, the department is in a shambles, and the concept of morale is foreign to most within the company. I commiserated. I have been in such a situation. I have felt, like him, that the only way to go was out. (I should quickly add I was wrong, and I’ve learned that almost any situation has the potential to turn around.  But that isn’t the point of this little missive.) 

But now, with time to reflect and allow common sense to pre…well, maybe common sense isn’t prevailing, but it is, at the very least, raising its ugly head to let me know it might have a few thoughts of its own…I’m beginning to think I may have provided my friend a great disservice.
Allow me to digress. In the early 90’s, I took a job in our Home Office Audit Department. Previously, at the regional level, it was my job as supervisor to ensure the effective and efficient execution of our part of the audit schedule. In the new position as a specialist, I was the one actually building the audit programs that everyone else was using. My job was to work with executives to determine the audits we would do and to communicate the final results.
An interesting thing happened. At the regional level, a level where much of the “real work” was done and the highest ranking people on the premises were the Executive of Regional Operations and his Staff Managers, I never had a problem with timeliness. There was a plan, there was a schedule, and everything got done.  At the Home Office, where all the important stuff happened and strategies were developed and where there were so many VPs we thought we were going to have to spray, things moved a little slower. 
Working in the regional office I could get a report out (including discussion and agreement with auditees) within a couple of days; the same process took a month or two in the home office. In the regional office I could walk up to an office and talk to the Regional Manager or his equivalent; in the home office I was forced to set up meetings that might occur in the next couple of weeks (and more often than not got postponed for a week or a month.)
And a nasty thing happened to me. I found myself falling into the trap of assuming that delays were normal and I really didn’t need to work that hard to ensure things got done quickly.  Timeliness seemed to become irrelevant.  It was nice to talk about, and an area where we knew we needed improvement, but, when all was said and done, not that critical. Don’t get me wrong, there was much I got done on time, but there was also the opportunity to slack off and just assume we could take care of it later.
And, from that, my natural proclivity for procrastination really blossomed, and execution and timeliness became areas of consistent struggle for me.
(“So why is he telling me this?”)   Because I knew the way things should be, but I accepted a lesser standard because of my environment. And I practiced those poor habits quite assiduously. From that, I developed habits I am still fighting twenty years later.
And that is the message I want to go back and tell my friend. Yes, I understand your mindset. And, yes, I understand why work may no longer be the biggest thing on your plate. And, yes, I understand that you have lost the impetus to work at your best level.   However, you are, right now, smack in the middle of developing some habits that may haunt you through the rest of your career. If you don’t get the opportunity to leave your current situation, then you have planted an image with your employer of a slacker who may not be worth the time.  And if you get a new job, you are going to find that the new environment works only so well, because you’ve taught yourself (even in as short a time as a month) to accept less than your best.
No matter how bad the situation, you have to maintain your personal standards of professionalism. And before too many of you read this and go off on some sanctimonious tirade about “that could never happen to me”, I provide you two last thoughts. One, you never (let me repeat NEVER) know how you will react until you are in an actual situation.  Two, how do you know you’re not the “friend” I’m talking about?

Posted on Aug 30, 2010 by Mike Jacka

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  1. wow, that really hit the nail on the head concerning how I feel about my personal drive for results.  I had been under an Internal Audit Director for nearly 10 years that posessed all the wrong characteristics for his position.  I find myself trapped in a mindset, almost like being brainwashed, that has squelched my desire and ambition to work at my potential.

    Now that he has been replaced, I'm beginning to reevaluate my priorities and my career goals.  This has helped me to refocus my efforts for results and has opened my mind to other ideas. 

    It's always encouraging to hear how other people have gone through a similar situation and come out a better person, or at least have recognized what they need to change.

    Thanks for the article.

  1. Good article it is very easy to find yourself in such a situation. A lot of self motivation and control is required. Professional can be got from reading such articles from other prefesional who have gone through the same situation.

    Great article and thanks

  1. The article is good but my experience now tells me that internal audit needs to develop and mature for it it to add value.  All those that the standards recommend are far from the practice.  The Chief Executives will always find their way and unless you sing to their tune, you will wait to retrenched and get some hefty send home.  I thought I was doing my best by reporting improprieties, system weaknesses leading to heavy financial losses but little did I know that I was annoying everybody and got fired. Why-no specific reason was given but the dismissal letter is that I failed to perform and the company lost huge sums of money without any details.  The many reports I issued on financial improprieties, weak internal controls were ignored just because they were stepping on the toes of many who joined forces to ensure I was out.

    I recently read a book by a German called Frederick, Human too Human.  He said in his book that he who often tells his colleagues about the party rules is in the opinion of his colleagues a dangerous colleagues.  They will unite and oust him.

    There is need for advocacy for internal audit to be where it should be otherwise most auditors survive because they have simply learnt the audit of survival.  I left my other job because the boss did not want to be told the weaknesses but little did I know it would be worse elsewhere.

    I am now jobless. 

    Why should I suffer so much and everybody in the organization see me as such a bad colleague just because I am beyond reproach.

    People have just refused to accept internal audit.

  1. Leonard, I quite agree with you that IA established standards are far from reality, at least in my experience.  I would also say from my experience that your experience is the norm.  It really helps when the IA function reports to the Board of Directors or someone outside the operating institution.  And, if the Board does not stand behind you, you ought to drop the organization anyway.  Unfortunately, that is less and less of an option given the job market.


  1. With a well defined internal audit function and commitment by the organisation’s board of directors, risks associated with management interference would be put at bay. Internal audit is, in essence, part of the internal control system, which is to be overseen by the board of directors. This effectively makes the internal audit role a Board function, delegated to a committee of the board (audit committee) and eventually to an independent unit referred to as Internal Audit. With this clarification, the independence of internal auditors should be guaranteed. This independence, however, is limited to the extent that the set-up of the internal audit unit within the organisation is not exclusive to the functional association with the board of directors. Internal audit is integrated within the corporate structure, with an indirect (administrative) reporting line to the chief executive, who also oversees management. It is this link that exposes internal auditors to the wrath of management.

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