Internal Auditors = Übermensch

What were you expecting? Business suits?

At my last job, I got an e-mail from my boss complaining about one section of an audit seeming a little anemic.  In the message, he asked how I could look for: “process inefficiencies, evidence of fraud, best practices, control gaps, areas for improvement, compliance deficiencies, contractual failures, and violations of corporate guidelines” without adequate testing.  You see, he knew that these were most of the areas that the literature on Internal Audit (IA) said was within scope of an IA department. It’s what the charter of the department said was our responsibility to look at.  Unfortunately he was unaware that’s not the required scope of every engagement.  This is nothing new; my last two audit jobs also pushed how IA needed to justify its existence by providing more value-added services (without cutting back on the non value-added work.)  This basically came down to an edict to do all things all the time and, since not sticking to schedule was such a horrific situation it all had to be done effectively instantaneously.  How? Management always insisted “multitasking” was the key.

Apparently, IA staff were expected to be no less than atomic super people capable of far more than any mere mortal.  When performing a test, usually with a specific “objective” in mind (and “objective” needs to be defined for every test; the test procedures must be engineered to achieve that objective,) staff needed to keep on top of the universe of all the other things they were charged with doing at the same time.

The human mind is subject to cognitive effect called selective attention.  This is best exemplified by the classic “invisible gorilla test.” You’ve probably seen the video online at sometime.  The simple fact is that the human mind, when given a specific task, has a lot of trouble noticing things outside of what’s necessary for that task.  About 50% of people can’t see a gorilla in the middle of some people passing a basketball when they’ve been told to count how many times the basketball was passed.

So, okay, how about the fact that auditors are highly trained specialists who should be able to notice things the average person wouldn’t?

As it turns out, specialists might be worse at it.  When a similar test was performed on experienced radiologists they proved even worse at spotting the image of a gorilla transposed on CT scans than of untrained people spotting the gorilla among basketball passers. Auditors will just need to work harder to overcome the limitations of our merely human brains.

Or maybe start exposing ourselves to radiation during training.


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