The Names the Thing - Part Two

Let’s talk some more about names.

Now, this one’s just a gut feel on my part – the only evidence I have that a problem may exist is the things that have happened to me – but I think auditors take for granted the simple task of naming audits. “Not a big deal,” you say? Well, to paraphrase Rod Stewart, every name tells a story, don’t it. And the name of an audit is often the first story our customers hear about the audit we are performing.
The problem all starts because, when we first learn how to audit, we are handed the names of our audits: Audit of Expense Reports, Audit of Accounts Payable, Audit of Petty Cash. And those names mean something to us because we are also handed an audit program.   As we grow more experienced we are more involved in the actual development of the audits. But, we still do not pay that much attention to the names given to the audits because we either rely on our previous knowledge of that type of audit or someone else is providing direction on where that audit should go.
But there comes a day when most of us actually make up those names. And I am learning it is not as intuitive as most of us assume it to be.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the power of applying a name to a thing. The name instantly defines the object being named, and it gives that thing its identity. The name makes the thing so. Just ask the editors of this magazine. There is quite a bit of thought put into the name of an article. It is the first thing the reader sees, and it is often what draws him or her to actually open additional pages or read additional words. When I was editing The Roundtable for the magazine (collections of short essays from auditors about interesting internal audits they had conducted), I was the one who had to come up with those names. It was tough, in just a few words, to encapsulate the content of those pieces and make them seem worth reading. Heck, just coming up with titles for these posts often results in monumental fails (check out a few, you’ll see.)
And so it is with an audit. Look at one of the most mundane of audits – the Audit of Petty Cash. That means one thing to me. It means something else to you. Probably not a monumental difference, not different enough to have an impact on any discussion we have about that audit, but a difference nonetheless.
Now apply that difference to situations where we are auditing new and different areas. None of us – auditors and auditees alike – have experienced such an audit before, and we walk in with no preconceived notions. However, we do walk in with what we hope or fear will be included in such an audit
Which means there is a fine art to developing names for audits in those new and different areas. For example, if I tell auditees I will be completing an audit of social media it will mean any number of things to any number of people. One auditee may think I’m going to dig into Facebook and find out what the company has done in that area. Another may think I’m going to review adherence to the social media policies. I may, instead, be looking at the governance structure the company has established over all Web 2.0 activities. We may all be right. But coming up with a name that provides a complete picture of what will be included is problematic.
Would it help if I named it “Audit of Social Media Governance”? Probably not. We all will still have different ideas of how broad that scope is. And we probably have different ideas what is meant by “governance”.   “Audit of Social Media Use”? Still not clear – does it mean the way the company uses social media or the way the company’s customers use social media? “Audit of How the Company Oversees the Way Customers and the Company Interact Using Such Things as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and Provides Governance Over All Those Issues”? Okay, a bit over the top. But that shows how tough it is to provide a good snapshot in the small image that is an audit title. For an audit of social media, there probably is no “right” answer, but it points out how important it is to at least think about that name.
I repeat again – names are powerful. And when we are naming our audits, we are setting the stage for the entire production.   In some situations, it isn’t exactly brain science, but it is always worth taking extra time to ensure you haven’t made a misstep, or you have properly thought about what is being said. Because, once something is named, you have taken that first step to making the world for it or against it.
Or maybe I’m the only one with this problem. (Wouldn’t be the first time.) What are your thoughts? Have you run into this issue? Has a name led to disaster? Or is naming an audit as simple as throwing a few words out there with the intent of having deeper discussions?

Posted on May 23, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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