This question came up in one of YellowBook CPE’s classes about reporting audit results: We are currently undergoing report writing with new management who has completely different writing styles. At times, some mgrs try making auditors feel incompetent. Report edits go back and forth with various layers of review to the point everyone is frustrated 🙁 Any suggestion on how to deal with this situation?
I hear something akin to this comment every time I teach a class about audit reporting because there is a lot of suffering going on! Feelings are hurt and resentments are festering.
But there is hope! Most of the suffering can be resolved by making a few subtle – but powerful – shifts in how your audit team works together.
Here are some ideas that might help get you out of audit reporting hell. I have a 15 pain relief ideas, so we will be addressing half of them here and the other half in another blog post:
PAIN RELIEF IDEA #1: Put off writing full sentences as long as possible
Why? Because people get attached to their creation. And when they write full sentences they get upset when people redline them.
So work from an outline comprised of incomplete sentences as long as you can. Here’s a short blog post about the benefits of creating an outline for your audit results.
PAIN RELIEF IDEA #2: Outline findings as soon as you identify them
One of the greatest things about our profession is that we back up everything we say with evidence. We don’t spout opinions and make stuff up.
So as soon as a finding crops up, put it in outline form and design your audit procedures to support what you want to say. Otherwise, if you wait to create your finding until after you have finished your audit, you won’t have the evidence you need to support what you want to say and you will either have to make do with what you have or go back and gather more evidence.
PAIN RELIEF IDEA #3: Share the outline of findings with reviewers ASAP
Instead of waiting to share your outline with the powers-that-be in your audit office until everything is just so, share your outline as soon as you create it. And as you know, what you the auditor want to say and what your audit executives wants to say often differ.
So, submit your outline to the executive team in your audit shop as soon as you come up with it and get their input before you exit fieldwork! Don’t tell the client you’re finished until you have all the evidence you need to back up what you and the audit executives want to say.
If you don’t do this… the executive team will ask you questions after you have created a fully formed finding that will force you back into testing. O.U.C.H!
Ideally, you have outlined your findings at the end of planning – and did not wait until the end of fieldwork. I know that last statement is a shocker for many auditors. So hang on… sketching out your findings at the end of planning doesn’t mean that the findings are locked in stone before fieldwork even begins, but it is a good idea to have them in mind as you do your test work.
You may prove your findings wrong as you go… but without a direction to shoot for, your audit scope will creep.
PAIN RELIEF IDEA #4: Distinguish between personal preference and good grammar and spelling
Have you ever heard of a ‘happy to glad’ editor? Maybe you’ve worked with one…a happy to glad editor marks out the word ‘happy’ in your text and replaces it with ‘glad’.
On the second run through, they mark out the word ‘glad’ and replace it with ‘happy’. On the third run through, they strike out ‘happy’ and replace it with ‘glad.’ Ha! You’ve seen editors act like that, I’m sure. They aren’t working on grammar or spelling, but instead are trying to put their own personal stamp on the report.
These time-wasting, frustrating editors are forgetting that the ultimate goal of writing is to PUBLISH! You must PUBLISH in order to get the audit results into the hands of the folks who need to make the necessary changes you recommend.
Are you the happy-to-glad editor in your office? Do you think you are Shakespeare reincarnated and you’re your writing is better than anyone else’s on the planet? 😳
Please get a grip on yourself. See this blog post for more on how to get out of your own way as an editor.
PAIN RELIEF IDEA #5: Don’t revise people’s work but instead allow them to learn
Avoid rewriting other people’s sentences. It hurts their feelings, demotivates them, and burdens you with more work. You’ve heard the old saw, about teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish?
If you revise their work for them, you transformed yourself into their Mama and you will have to write for them for the rest of their career. Teach them how to do their own laundry, catch their own fish, and write their own sentences.
PAIN RELEIF IDEA #6: If it’s fine the way it is, leave it alone (a.k.a. allow people to have their own voice!)
I hear some audit managers say that they work to achieve a consistent voice and style on their audit reports. Wha?
Are these audit managers imagining that the auditee sits down and compares the writing style of the current audit results to a previous audit results? That is ridiculous! We can’t even get them to read even one of our audit reports, much less study them! So the time that you invest in getting to an idealized consistent writing style is a waste of time.
Let people have their own voice and style. If it’s anywhere near approximating good grammar, approve it and dare I say it again? Publish it!
PAIN RELIEF IDEA #7 When someone struggles with grammar, get them the appropriate help
There are people who didn’t pick up writing skills when they were in high school or college. Maybe English is their second language.
Instead of berating them in making them feel inferior by rewriting their sentences, get them the appropriate training. Send them to in English writing class at a local community college or send them to a business writing class. Connect them with someone who does have good writing skills and who has the patience to coach them on how to improve their writing. I bet you have someone on your team who would love to take on this task.
Again, slowing down and teaching your team to fish for themselves now will save you heartache later.
PAIN RELIEF IDEA #8: Screen employees for writing skills before hiring
If you don’t think you have enough time or skills to help someone improve their writing skills, then you’d better make sure that you hire people who can already write.
Give them a writing test before they start to work with you. Don’t hire people who are unable employ essential grammar and spelling rules.
The folks you hire do not have to know how to write a good finding or an audit objective as those are skills that you can teach them once they are employed. If you’d like for them to learn these specific writing skills that are specific to the auditing profession, please join me for the audit reporting clinic.