Are your exit meetings oftentimes explosive events in which you and your client are in consistent disagreement about the issues? Or, do you find that sometimes your clients are surprised by the nature and extent of the issues. Exit meeting preparation and communication begins well before the formal exit meeting. As a matter of fact, it begins prior to the start of the audit. It all starts with the nature of the relationship we have with our clients (see related article, Building Trust and Credibility with Audit Clients). Oftentimes when exit meeting go awry, we blame the client. However, I suggest we evaluate our communication methods to ensure we are not at fault. There are four things we can do to improve our exit meetings
(1) Understand how people communicate
(2) Observe and test objectively
(3) Confirm and validate early and continuously
Understand how people communicate
First, we must understand how people communicate. We communicate with others based on what we see, hear and feel. Oftentimes, we can tell our audit clients that an issue is serious and think they understand, however, items are not quite “real” until it is in writing. Issues in writing always have a bigger impact than those discussed verbally. At the end of the day, it does not matter how we “say it” to our clients, if we are not sincere and if they do not believe we are truly there to provide value added services, our work will fall on deaf hears. It is up to us to create an overall “experience” of objectivity and fairness in our engagements.
Observe and Test
This may sound extremely basic, but when performing “walkthroughs” it is essential that auditors actually observe the processes. All too often, auditors setup meetings with clients and “interview” them about their processes. As the old saying goes “seeing is believing”, therefore, it is extremely important to actually observe processes as they being performed. After observing and gaining an understanding of processes, auditors must test the controls.
Confirm and Validate (early)
When issues are discovered, auditors must confirm the issue with the client as quickly as possible. This helps to avoid misunderstandings early. Start with the person performing the function. Show them what you are seeing and allow them to walk you through what has happened. There may be rational, logical explanations. If the item still poses risks, allow personnel an opportunity to communicate upwards first. Gently nudge them to inform their supervisor. Then encourage their supervisor to inform the next level upwards. It’s called ownership and accountability.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Finally, communicate potential issues to your clients on a periodic basis. I prefer weekly, but you many have some other time frame in mind. It need not be too formal, but formal enough to document the communication. If all goes well, management will not be too surprised because their direct reports will have already informed them of the potential issues. Best case scenario, management will arrive at these update meetings with action plans.
If your exit meetings are volatile, try implementing the techniques discussed above. It may be you. In general, most clients want to ensure they have adequate controls. If you find yourself dealing with the rare difficult client, remain professional and do not compromise your standards. The video below provides an interesting and humorous look at the “audit exit meeting”.