The Number of the Best

Recently, I received the following note from a department indicating they had discovered a genuine best practice. Without hesitation, I share it with all of you.

We faced the problem that many other audit departments face. It seemed that, every time we talked to auditees about audit results, they were generally amenable to the issues under discussion.  However, when they actually saw those results in writing, they suddenly turned into the hidden monsters we all suspect lies beneath the auditees’ calm exterior. We struggled mightily with this issue until, while reading up on marketing techniques we thought might apply to internal audit, we found the following.
“Consumers like numbers such as 10, 12, and 24 that are the sums or products of common grade-school arithmetic problems, and as a consequence they prefer brand names containing those numbers, research suggests. In one experiment by Dan King of the National University of Singapore and Chris Janiszewski of the University of Florida, people preferred the (made-up) brand Zinc 24 to Zinc 31 and just plain Zinc.”
“Consumers Like Brands Containing Likable Numbers – The Journal of Market Research
As wih so many things, the power of numbers has come to the rescue. With the understanding that numbers can help drive the “likability” of our reports, we began using that to our advantage. No longer do we report the “actual” numbers when talking about test results. Instead, we “round” to a number that will be more palatable to the auditee. For example, we might have actually found that 17 of the 127 items we reviewed (13%) had errors. There is not a single number in there that an auditee will like. So we now try to find more auditee-friendly numbers. If that means choosing a different sample of 125 so we can have 12 that are incorrect (9%), then we will do so.  We will also round to the nearest “preferred” number. To facilitate this, we have established a list of ideal number transformations. For example, 13.5% is adjusted to 12%, 11% is adjusted to 10%, and 27% becomes 24%. Our integrity remains intact because the results are not appreciably different, but the numbers are much more “agreeable”.
However, our biggest success has come in the area of naming audit reports. No auditee is interested in titles such as Audit of Accounts Payable or Petty Cash Reconciliation or Review of the Governance Structure Related to Marketing Activities. However, when we spice up the title with just the right number, the “brand” of the audit becomes acceptable. Titles such as Audit of Accounts Payable #24 and Petty #43 Cash Reconciliation (with its nod to the NASCAR fans) and the simply titled GRC audit No 5 have been infinitely more acceptable to our auditees  
As a last resort, if we cannot find a solution that involves a likable number, we will remove those numbers altogether. You would be surprised how often we have found that the numbers just clutter up the report; their elimination making it much easier to issue that effective report.”
I give this idea a 10 on a scale of 12.

Posted on May 11, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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