BPC and What It Means to Me

This is a half-formed idea (I have some “friends” who are now asking if I’ve ever had a fully-formed idea), but what better way to approach it than to throw it on a blog in front of millions of people. (Tens of people?)

While I think we can all understand the basis for political correctness (the need to turn from hurtful and harmful words and concepts), I think most of us can also agree that it may have gone a bit too far. If someone calls me “an old geezer” (I am over 50 and the hair turned from grey to white a long time ago), I will take the comment within context and my anger will come from that overall situation, not the use of a single word. Yet, I have heard people complain regarding the use of such an “age-ist” word. That is by no means the worst of political correctness gone bad, but I’m sure you can fill in your own stories here.

Beyond that, I have begun wondering if our focus on political correctness — our bending over backwards to keep from offense — is an indicator of a larger problem within our culture. I’ll call it our business political correctness (BPC). BPC is the translation of our fear of offense in every day life into the way we act in the business world. In other words, BPC run amuck is people taking the caution they have exhibited in the real world — the need to find just the right way to say things so that no one is offended — and applying that to the way they handle business situations.  And the bad news is that good business is (and good businesses are) built upon positive conflict. And effective positive conflict includes not being overly concerned about offending. Too many “yes” men spoil the broth, the board room, and the multimillion dollar company. But, stop to consider: Do you see more people willing to stick their neck out and offend or “yes” men intent on making sure no offense is taken?

Our aversion to conflict is disguised in many ways — getting along with the internal customer, internal politics, marketing the department — but I’m wondering if it is indicative of our overall aversion to giving offense. And, this leads to the question, “Was BPC one of the many attitudes that helped create the meltdowns and business failures we are currently seeing?” Those who saw flawed strategies, yet suffered from BPC, are even now still trying to figure out the best way to step forward.

And from this point, we have to ask the follow-up question, “How complicit is every audit department in accepting a company’s strategic course because it would not be the right political move or our customer might turn somewhere else? Are we suffering from BPC?” About 10 years ago our department was trying to write our reports in a positive manner. In the audit I completed, we found they weren’t completing appropriate account reconciliations. I wrote something to the effect that controls could be strengthened by the completion of the reconciliations. My boss quickly removed it and explained that we needed to write they were not doing the required reconciliations. His point was that, in sugar-coating (putting a positive customer spin on) the finding, the impact and subsequent actions would be diminished. Ask yourself how similar BPC efforts have impacted the effectiveness of your internal audit department?

I’m sorry; these are only half-formed thoughts. And I would be very interested in what anyone else thinks — whether you can fill in the thoughts or explain that I’m already full of something else. Am I trying to draw too perfect a parallel between political correctness and BPC? Am I casting stones where no sin has been committed? Or have we become so nice a society that our businesses may suffer? And feel free to offend me — you can even call me a geezer.

 

Posted on Jul 6, 2009 by Mike Jacka

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  1.  Political correctness to me is in normal courtesy, the hello, handshake, having a chat perhaps on how things are going on, or having an occasional monthly lunch with your staff and colleagues, if you have a small company. It is to respect each other's boundaries, and know each other's limits. 

     

    However, in business, particularly in audit, if an auditor finds that there are weaknesses or control gaps, they need to be highlighted in the most effective manner. Some people in management may not like it as their performance is appraised on the results of the internal audit report. They will get all hostile with the internal auditor, and raise their voices in the meetings. I have been through that, and all I do is watch and listen to all that they want to say, and let them have their say. I sometimes feel sorry for them if they do not know how to speak appropriately and reasonably, but I maintain my cool.

     

    It isnt really easy sometimes as you will face difficult people. If you are lucky, management will buy all your recommendations and appreciate you for it, because those audit recommendations have added some real value and they really could do with some improvements in their processes. However if management have no intention to change their ways and processes and are quite happy with their old ways, it will be a challenge for the auditor to really convince them why the recommendation has been suggested, and what it could do to improve processes, controls, minimise risks.

    Facts have to be stated and shown. Toning of words does play an important role, but if something isn't right and needs fixing, the auditor is responsible to bring it to light, and to make sure to put it in such a way so that his management will accept it and implement it. 

    Good luck auditor, you do have to wear many different hats! 

     

     

     

     

  1. There is no doubt that this is happening at my company.  We are told not to be negative in our reports, to limit findings to 5 or 6 and our audits are guided by the "hot issues" in the company rather than the potential risk.  When a "hot issue" looses steam so does the audit. 

    I think the root cause of the problem is more complex than just BPC.  Today's economy has put many people in fear of loosing their jobs and therefore there is an increase in the importance, real or perceived, to  "getting along" with others.  

    Another issue is the lack of mobility in our audit department.  As IT auditors and managers, there is no defined career path.  Since most of us came from IT, the expectation is that one day we will go back to IT.  This becomes a conflict of interest.  The though of limiting career options by offending someone is always a consideration when presenting audit findings.  

    I would love to hear how other audit departments are dealing with these issues.  

  1. I try to present findings the "Fox News" way, fair & balanced.  One way is to mention what you found right as well as what you found wrong.  For example, eight of the ten transactions reviewed were accurate, complete and properly authorized.  Two transactions were lacking proper authorization.  We recommend retraining etc.

    Related to your comment about controls being strengthened by completing the recs., that was a strtech since apparently they were just not doing them.  Sometimes a deficiency is just that, a deficiency.  Perhaps the deficiency could be sugar coated a bit by mentioning the root cause, a misinterpretation of the requirement to reconcile these particular accounts etc.

  1. I have found that those who are always politically correct and entirely worried about not offending anyone have more trouble when they have to speak up about something that is wrong or really matters.  Where people who are more frank with everyone, but at the same time respectful in their approach, generally get more respect and positive results when the time comes to get things accomplished.

    I have specific example from yesterday.  A co-worker of mine walks on egg-shells around everyone wanting to "keep the peace" and avoid any conflict.  My approach is unabashed truth, but phrased where it's not personal.  She tried to tell someone that they were outside of policy on a particular practice and that person got so angry & offended that she would even mention it.  In fact, even said something about how they've always worked well together but all of a sudden are pointing fingers.  So I went down and asked about the same practice, they explained it, I said that their interpretation of the practice was a little different & not how it was intended to read but that we would ask management to consider rewording to clarify and they fell right in line with no hard feelings.  Bottom line...I think that when you step on egg shells then people expect you to and are a lot more surprised when you speak up.  If you just say it how it is, and you are that way with everyone, then that is what they expect from you and they address the situation and move on. 

    We aren't here to make friends, but we are here to be respectful and productive.  Political correctness to the extent mentioned in the above posts seems counter-productive in everything that I've seen in a work place.  However, it is definitely a reality that has to be dealt with in an appropriate manner or even worse problems will exist.

  1. As a retired military officer, I can use colorful language with the best of them.  However, in today's culturally diverse environment that is seldom an acceptable practice.  My organization's staff comes from many countries and many cultures.  Learnng about these cultures and reacting in an appropriate manner is just basic manners and shows that I respect and value the other person.  Save the old geezer jokes (I'm also a mid-fifties with salt and pepeer hair) for office mates you know well and can joke around with without offending.  Keep them out of larger group settings and professional meetings.

    Communications is difficult.  Regardless of how it's labelled, mutual respect and manners are still the mark of a truely mature individual.  Too often this message has been lost in our work place.

  1. I find that everytime I "tone down" a comment, the response gets toned down as well.  When seeking specific and measurable action related to a deficiency you must state the facts, however I do agree that some of the sting is removed when you take the time to include positive comments as well.  

    I am concerned that being PC in audit comments could make the audit itself basically useless.  After all, why spend time doing the work, if you are not interested in the outcome?

  1. I would like to comment on the earlier comment about only looking at "hot" issues.  I find this particularly true today with SOX.  Many companies are spending so much time worried about minute details under SOX that they are not looking at fundamental issues that affect the overall ability of the company to function.  Two examples I am familiar with:

    A major transportation company had 4 IT auditors in SOX and 2 in internal audit.  Neither group looked at the computer systems that ran the operations of the company since they didn't affect the financials.

    A financial services firm does a lot of work with third party relationships (the example firm underwrites policies that other firms sell).  The audit function performs high level reviews (usually 1 day) prior to contract and spends more time a year or so after the contract analyzing all areas of the associated company.  However, once the company becomes SOX relevant, the scope of coverage is reduced to only cover SOX relevant items.  For the SOX review, the audit team spends one week onsite yet only look at about 1/4 to 1/3 of the items covered prior to the SOX review.  The SOX review is more concerned about documentation and testing than it is about the overall adequacy and effectiveness of controls.

    Until we start performing effective reviews of the overall business concerns, we are really not earning our salary.

  1. One of the things that I have noticed,during my years in the internal audit profession, is willingness of some audit executives and managers to try to "fit in", usually under the guise of "the ability to work with and through others" which is one of the primary definitions of leadership.  Oftentimes, if this defintion is not put into its proper context, in terms of the role that internal audit must play within the organization by adding value, it can be very damaging.

  1.  

    I appreciate the candor in your responses.  Apparently, many people have experienced situations where auditing lost its teeth by trying to be too much of a kinder and gentler audit department.
     
    At the risk of talking out of both sides of my mouth, let me offer some defense to management.  I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now (Joe – you out there – do you get this reference?) and it is far too easy, no matter what your perspective, to think the other side doesn’t know what they are talking about.  As someone actually working on the audit product - after putting in blood, sweat, and tears - it is very hard to watch your brain child be taken by management and softened/manipulated/bastardized to make a more “palatable” product.  On the other hand, I’ve been in the management position where I made those changes in order to get management buy-in.  It was then also my job to explain to the auditor why the changes were made.  Ultimately, it has to do with getting the right things done.  If I couldn’t explain to the auditor how our combined work was getting the desired results – then I had failed (both the auditor and the product.)
     
    But that gets to the important point.  BPC or not, the right thing has to be done.  BPC cannot be an excuse for substandard results.
     
    And now a quick plea to others out there.  The responses have been heavy on the side of those who have seen the problems of BPC.  How about those of you who either have not seen the problem, or think the problem is overblown?
  1. Sorry about the bold type - still figuring this thing out.  (Did I mention I'm a geezer?)

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