Critical Thinking? How about just Thinking?

It seems to me that auditing as a profession is not full of critical thinkers, much less thinkers.

If you read my last post about auditor judgment, I’m struggling with some of the junior auditors that I’m working with.

But I’m also struggling with quite a few of the senior auditors that I work with, those that are my peers (which means they peer at what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and then continue on their merry paths).

I came to this opinion based on most of the auditors I’ve met through the years across many companies, small and big, and across sectors, including public service. And also by the many articles calling for the profession to do more critical thinking, and yes, it is needed. 

But let’s start with plain old thinking (walk before run).

I have done a lot in my current company to document procedures, train auditors, and review workpapers.

While management has insisted that some of the training I provide be formal classroom training, I also like to come along side auditors of all levels to help them with their current audits. That’s because normal training has set procedures and specific data files that you use to illustrate concepts and how to do things–but people often have trouble applying procedure A to other situations (which requires thinking).

But when you enter the auditors’ world, discuss and review their data, and try a couple procedures with them, it usually makes more sense them and grows better auditing muscle. Unless they aren’t motivated and really don’t care. Which leads me to my current topic.

Lots of auditors don’t think, including those who’ve been around. It is always easier and faster to ask someone about something or how to do X than it is to discover or look it up on your own. We all do it.

So the other day, a senior auditor called and asked about a sticky Excel problem and whether if I had any ideas how to format some data so she could analyze it.

The first warning sign was that she told me that her audit manager suggested she talk to me.

So on one hand, she asked her manager before me, which is good for me. Rather than take the time to help her, her manager passed the buck to me, the analytics expert in the department (I’ve never claimed to be that, but that’s how management refers to me; personally, I think expert is a high bar to which I have not raised my chin).

After all, managers are too busy to challenge their people to think, and I’m just a lowly expert. :)

So anyway, as we talked, I remembered out loud that we had run into that problem before, but I couldn’t remember how to do it. I quickly searched my project logs and documentation and didn’t find the solution.

This auditor wasn’t aware that we’d solved this before; she just wanted a solution handed to her.

So I asked the auditor where she got the data from, and she told me the applications team on the business side. Did she by any chance go back to the team and ask for the data to be delivered in a better format?

“No,” she replied. “That’s my last resort.”

“LAST RESORT?” I asked. “I would always make that my first resort,” I replied. “Why do you want the app team to do less work and you do more work??”

“Well, that’s what my audit manager told me t0 do if you couldn’t help me,” she said confidently, knowing she was implementing the mighty words of her manager. [Instead of thinking for herself.]

“Let me see if I understand this,” I said. “First, the data was NOT requested in the proper format when the original audit request was made, so instead of having the applications team spend time on fixing this, you and I are spending time on fixing this. Is that accurate?”

“Well, we weren’t planning on using this field, but after we saw the data, we decided to do this additional test,” she said. Makes sense, as it has happened to me before.

As we talked, I did some quick internet searches and thought I found a possible solution.

“Did you search the Internet for any solutions,” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No. My manager told me to ask you first,” she said, again proud of her ability to follow direction [without doing any thinking at all].

“Well, I just texted you a link. If that doesn’t work, you can search for more solutions and/or go back to the app team,” I said, trying not to sigh.

Normally, I would have been harder on this senior auditor, but in the past, auditors have complained that I was “unwilling to help” when I suggested they explore solving the problem on their own first (called ‘think and learn’). Evidently our management wants our auditors to be lead around by the hand instead of learning to solve their own problems. My new hybrid approach of asking, suggesting, providing feedback, and then providing a link or two does 2 things: 1) tries to encourage auditors to think on their own, and 2) gives them some things to try without doing it for them.

Fifteen minutes later I got a text saying, “Step 3 of that procedure you sent me was the key to solving that problem! Thanks!”

Afterwards, I had a gentle chat with that manager asking that next time a similar situation occurs, the manager 1) ask the auditor to think about the possible ways the solution could be found, and if ‘search the Internet’ isn’t one of them, instruct them to do that first; and 2) make a new data request the second choice.

Then if all else fails, ask the expert for ideas, not a solution.

In other words, think first. And managers need to do that too.


Filed under Audit, Data Analytics, Excel, Humor/Irony, Technology

4 responses to “Critical Thinking? How about just Thinking?

  1. jules

    I agree and think this is a huge difference between average auditor and great auditor. I think for junior auditor it is acceptable because of the massive scope of auditing. I am 4+ years into auditing and starting to be confident in my inferencing further skills rather than everything being black and white. I do blame some of this on teaching. In school we are taught standard information and I don’t recall learning much critical thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Audit Monkey

    One of the reasons I dislike the IIA (CIIA) in the UK is that their qualifications are narrow and they have a very ‘Janet & John’ approach auditing. (I appreciate that the phrase ‘Janet & John’ will be lost on you but the approach to auditing is elementary and text book.) Therefore it is no surprise that critical thinking is missing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s universal. Especially for auditors coming out of public accounting. They think all of auditing is as simple as 2+2=4. Just work the formula and get the one right answer.
      That’s why you need auditor judgement which really means use critical thinking.
      This is also why so many auditors and audit mgmt can’t do/support analytics. Requires too much thought


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