Last week I shared two stories about audits which went horribly wrong. Oh, not end of the world/the company's going under/where are you going to work next week wrong; but wrong enough that there was plenty of egg available for everyone's faces.
However, before diving into the main reason I told those stories, I want to take us on a minor side trip.
(Don't worry. This isn't going to be one of those long-winded sidetracks where you begin to wonder how you wound up in the Arizona desert when all you wanted to do was visit Walley World. This minor diversion was planned all along in order to make a point about failure.)
Subsequent to posting the first installment of this series I talked with a couple of people who, while couching their comments in the friendliest of terms, were effectively asking, "How can you be crazy enough to post such monumental failures?" They went on to question whether or not I could make the same points with less consequential examples – without airing laundry that was quite so dirty.
Of course I could. In fact, I could have made the point by using an example from another company, I could have made the point by picking a more trivial example, or I could have made the point without even providing an example.
But that defeats the true purpose of sharing failures.
I could go on about how you have to fail to get ahead or how I am sick of hearing people claim failures on minor or insignificant issues ("Boy, we really punted on that petty cash audit"), but the crux of the biscuit is that the biggest lessons come from the bigger failures.
I shared the example of a significant strategic error that auditing might have helped remediate; I shared the example of a flawed structure that internal audit might have helped heal in a more timely fashion; I shared two pretty serious fails because I want to convey, as completely as possible, how important I think this lesson is.
And I've also shown you these examples because, deep within your heart of hearts, you know you have similar stories. And you have to be willing to bring them out and share if you expect to make yourself, anyone you work with, and the profession as a whole more successful. We learn best by seeing what can go wrong and how to make it better.
Our team did learn from those mistakes.
But, I am recently convinced that we didn't learn the most important lesson (a lesson that I'm not sure anyone is learning). And so I share with the hope that the significance of these failures will help you understand the magnitude of the lesson I think we can learn.
And I share with you in the hopes that you feel the freedom to share your failures with others – failures that help us all to learn.
Later this week, back to what happened and where I think we really went wrong. And, as promised, what we can learn from the lessons of a symphony conductor.