Dispatches from the Boston Front No. 3 - An Auditor and a Tourist Walk Into a Starbucks

Standing in line at the Starbucks located at the conference hotel, I was privy to a fascinating exchange. I headed over to wait for my espresso. A person in front of me was given his freshly heated wrap. The lady who had been waiting before him was quite distraught. This was based on the perceived slight that she had been their first and that she had not gotten her bagel. 

Now, I’m not sure how the conversation twisted, but suddenly she was accusing the gentleman who had obtained his wrap of also taking her bagel. The person behind the counter seemed perplexed – not understanding how the bagel-less woman could make this (mis?)interpretation. The gentleman basically took it in stride and just kept moving.
 
However, the gentleman’s compatriot took it upon herself to prolong the argument. I did not catch the details, but it was an escalating confrontation about who did and who did not steal whose bagel. The compatriot walked away full of righteous indignation and joyful redemption for defending her maligned friend.
 
The bagel-less woman (for whom a new bagel was being heated) turned to her own compatriot and the following exchange took place.
 
“He stole my bagel.” (Obviously, she was unconvinced by the gentleman’s compatriot’s assurances that no theft took place)
 
“What did she say?”
 
“’Internal auditors don’t steal.’”
 
“Maybe he’s not an internal auditor.”
 
“He had a badge and everything.”
 
It was at this point my order arrived and I departed – trying not to laugh at the absurdity of the entire situation. And here’s the three points I took away:
 
1) We are ambassadors for the profession. In particular, if we are wearing a badge or shirt or tattoo that shows our allegiance with internal audit, we have a certain duty to act with more civilized manners. This is not to pick on the gentleman who was accused of stealing the bagel. (I have no idea what his involvement in this mysterious disappearance was.) Rather, it is to point out that his compatriot was doing no one any service by continuing an argument that would have no conclusion - an argument that only grew larger as the two egos continued to bruise each other. If you are an auditor, act as a professional – not as a defender of the unimportant.
 
2) If you are defending an internal auditor, do not go with an untruth. “Internal auditors don’t steal” is incorrect. I will hold our profession up as containing some of the more ethical business people around. But there are a lot of us and, with a population that size, there will be thieves. (For example, I attended an IIA seminar where someone stole an ethics book. All the facilitators agreed the individual definitely needed it.) Many internal auditors don’t steal, most internal auditors don’t steal, it is hard to find an internal auditor that steals – all true. However, “internal auditors don’t steal” is as false as “internal auditors don’t lie” (which is proven untrue by the lie “internal auditors don’t steal.”)
 
3) Finally, if life were just so easy that we knew what people are because of their badges. And, not just a badge, a “badge and everything.” I find it funny that the badge was proof. But I find it even funnier that there was an aura, a collection of geegaws, some conglomeration of things that helped convince the individual that this person was, indeed, an internal auditor, as evidenced not only by  the badge, but also the “and everything.”
 
The type of minor squabble we have all seen countless times. However, of special importance to us because it did concern an individual of our profession and, to me, one of our profession not acting the way we might hope one would act. 
 
Not going to say I haven’t fallen into the trap myself. But a further reminder to keep our eyes open and learn about ourselves from the things that go on around us.

Posted on Jul 10, 2012 by Mike Jacka

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