Phone-to-Phone or Face-to-Face?

Don’t we live in a wonderful world? Teleconference, e-mail, video conference, electronic workpapers…so many alternatives that save time and money. We can all interact so much more easily and cheaply. There is no need to fly across the country. There is no need to drive down the street. There is no need to walk down the hall. There is no need to stand up from your cubicle. It’s all there in the images on the screen and the voice over the phone and all those bits and bytes. 

So, at the risk of being considered a Luddite, I would like to state that these technologies have resulted in some of the most self-destructive practices currently in use by auditors. In the name of working faster, smarter, and cheaper, we are relying on these alternatives rather than the real-life, face-to-face interactions that are a necessary component of the work we do. The core of auditing is about communication. And solid two-way communication cannot occur through voice-only interactions or (even worse) time-delayed, static-ridden videos.
More than likely, each of us has had the following experience. The exit interview, being held via teleconference, appears to be going swimmingly. Suddenly, out of the blue, you step on a land mine and the entire meeting devolves into chaos. All because you were relying on an electronic voice rather than the true tone of voice and body language.
And, while my primary complaint is that we get only half the message with these electronic replacements to human interaction, they are also the cause for much of our current inefficiencies. Face it, meetings are much easier to set, and that is a primary culprit in the increase in number of meetings. “Sure,” the manager thinks, “Fred is a good auditor, but I’ll just set a standing meeting at 1:00 every afternoon to make sure he is getting everything done.” “Sure,” the AIC thinks, “Joan does good work, but I better check those workpapers every morning to make sure she is doing what I told her.” “Sure,” the CAE says, “My people are professionals, but I better meet with them all the time to get updates.” And, for just one moment, let’s pretend all these meeting are important. How effective is a meeting when people, sitting in the same office, attend the conference call from their individual cubicles, busily working their e-mail (we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they are, indeed, working)?
I understand that we have less money. I understand we have to use the tools. But I also understand that overreliance on these tools is dulling the accuracy of our audit work. The skill of being an auditor is about listening, and listening is more than hearing words. It is about building relationships – relationships that cannot be built with words on a screen or a voice on a phone. And, at the risk of repeating myself, that is what auditing is really all about. It is about talking to and communicating with people. And that means being there, in person, having a true communicative conversation.
And, if anyone would like to discuss, feel free to stop by my desk so we can talk about it face-to-face. (Or, assuming the former is impossible, post a response.)

Posted on Nov 16, 2009 by Mike Jacka

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  1. Great post, Mike.  I couldn't agree more.  I have actually worked with a manager in the past that would 'instant message' me questions related to audits I was conducting.  This would be fine if he were located in a different city, but sadly he was sitting in the cubicle next to me.  Just a microcosm of the misuse of technology.  You learn to so much by merely listening and observing locations, relationships and the daily operations of a plant.  And most times observation alone can shed light on a potential problem area or situation.

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