A Warren Zevon Quote

“You don’t have to firebomb Dresden to prove you can fly a plane.” (From the biography I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon)

It feels like this should apply to auditors somehow. I thought I had an inkling of how, and then I reread my prior posting and the responses.

What do you think the quote means to auditors (and to business people, and to just plain, old, ordinary people)?

Posted on Jul 13, 2009 by Mike Jacka

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  1. This is so tempting, but I will be serious for a moment, Mike.

    The measure of an auditor is not the number of issues, the seriousness of the findings detected during an audit. The job of the auditor is not to find fault, but to provide assurance that risks are being managed and controls operating effectively.

    The auditor should not measure his/her worth in the monies saved and risks avoided. The auditor should measure his/her worth through their contribution to helping the organization become and then remain efficient and effective. Pride should be taken when the organization has an excellent risk and control culture, and issues are few and far between.

    Where there are issues, the auditor should strive to assist management by identifying ways in which they can be corrected. This is why most forward-thinking internal audit functions have moved from the historic practice of issuing recommendations and demanding a response, to including both recommendations and responses in the report.

    In my opinion, best practice is one step further: the auditor includes a description of the issue and then the agreed-upon corrective action that will be taken by management. Inclusion of recommendations and responses is redundant in an efficient organization where the role of internal audit is respected. What the board and top management need to know is that there has been a problem and it is being fixed. They don't need to see a recommendation and a response, implying that there are differences.

  1. Norman, your point is well taken.  And I'll expound on it.  It is very easy to get wrapped up in the ideas of "findings" - what we found, how we reported it, whose toes we stepped on.  But at the core, out job (just like anyone's in the company) is to make the company better.

    If the mindset is to "firebomb Dresden", then the audit department will always be seen as a pariah.  However, if the audit department is too busy being kinder and gentler (at the expense of ensuring the company does the right things) they will be just as useless as the pariah (although they'll get better press.)

    I guess, finding that balance is why we get the big bucks.

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