Nobody move! This is an audit!
Erica sent me a text today with the scariest words for any business.
We have an auditor here.
Erica’s company strives to comply with all federal, state, and local regulations and they work hard to instill strong ethical behaviors and accountability in their employees. They have all their ducks in line which is the best strategy for passing an audit. But employees remain nervous because there is always the ‘what if’ fear. “What if I missed something?” “What if I don’t fully answer the question?”
Below are some simple tips for helping your employees feel more at ease and your auditors feel more confident in your answers.
The first meeting between two people generally sets the stage for future interactions. The old adage about judging a book by its cover is how the real world operates. Auditors are typically in your spaces for a very short time so a failed first impression is virtually impossible to recover from. Make sure you use friendly, open body language and maintain eye contact. What does this look like?
Turn your body so you fully face your auditor.
If seated, stand, shake their hand, and make eye contact while you greet them.
Smile. This seems like a no-brainier but it is really hard to smile when you are talking to an ‘audit face’. Auditors are encouraged to keep facial expressions impassive because smiling and frowning can lead an interviewee to change their answers.
Be honest if you can’t get a handle on your nervous behaviors. Address the elephant in the room and say, “I’ve never been through an audit so I’m kind of nervous. Let me know if I’ve missed anything.”
Being in a stressed environment makes most people talk faster and causes changes in volume and resonance. Slow your pace a little and pay attention to whether your voice is too loud/too soft or if it sounds thin and weak. A leisurely pace and soothing voice triggers a calming effect in the person receiving your message. Keep your auditors as calm as possible. Also, hesitate before answering EVERY question even if you know the answer. This goes back to pace and how auditors are taught to key in on unusual hesitations. If you answer the first two questions immediately but take an additional 10-15 seconds to answer the third question, it indicates you may be unsure of the answer.
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
If you don’t know the answer to a question, let the auditor know you need to verify or confirm it. Avoid using the phrase “I don’t know” unless the issue clearly falls in someone else’s swim lane. Try using positive, action phrases such as ‘yes’, ‘and’, ‘I will’, and ‘let’s go’. Scale back on a negative, passive voice by avoiding words such as ‘no’, ‘but’, ‘maybe’, and ‘later’. Read The Art of War by Sun Tzu (or a version that relates Sun Tzu’s principles to business). Sun Tzu’s principles demonstrate how to use the energy of your enemy to your advantage. You are using the auditors momentum to propel them past processes that need some work instead of trying to stonewall them in an attempt to hide something.
Good examples of choosing your words are:
“Let me pair you up with someone who has deep knowledge on this issue. I’ll call (insert name) to walk you through the process.” Why this works: I never say I don’t know and I immediately have a plan to get the information for the auditors. When this doesn’t work: If you are the subject matter expert for a process, don’t dump this off on your direct reports or coworkers. You are, in effect, telling the auditors you don’t know your job and that you’re too busy to deal with them.
“We will get those documents to you within the hour. I want to make sure you have a legible copy so let me ask (insert name) to pull a copy directly from the database while we work on the rest of the questions.” Why this works: I never say I don’t know where to find the documentation and I’m still working with the auditor while someone else is conducting the search. When this doesn’t work: Don’t use this if the auditors provided a list of required documents in advance. This is also not the best thing to say if YOU are the only one in the company with access to this documentation.
YOU ARE NEVER TOO BUSY FOR AUDITORS
Never tell an auditor you are too busy. If you need to bring a task to a close, let the auditor know you will be available in 2 minutes and then meet your deadline. Don’t leave an auditor to their own devices. Auditors are trained to scan the area, read documents sitting in open areas, and listen in on casual conversations in the hall. They aren’t evil; they simply use all senses in order to get a better understanding of how the business really operates. Avoiding auditors and making them wait causes two things to happen: (1) it increases an auditor’s suspicions and (2) it gives auditors ample time to gather unofficial intel. This typically results in more questions, requests for more documentation, and more interviews.
Auditors aren’t going away no matter how many times you close your eyes, click your heels together, and wish upon stars. The first step to getting them to leave you alone is creating a robust ‘Tone at the Top’, ensure you follow documented processes, and maintain audit trails for financial transactions. The second step is to make sure your auditors know you are committed to helping them gather all the requisite information. If all else fails, send your entire staff to acting classes so they can, at the very least, pretend they are working with the auditors instead of against them.
How did you handle your last audit and what would you do different next time?