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Observation is a key skill in auditing

Observation is one of the key skills that can be applied in any professional, occupation or relationship.  Proper observation has been known to save marriages.  There is such a thing called “obnosis”. This simply means to observe the obvious.  So much of what we see is see through the filters of our upbringing, education, religion and culture that we do not simply see what is there.  If you were asked to observe someone then you may say they are from a particular religion, race etc. but in fact this would be your viewpoint or frame of reference and is not observing their clothes, how they actually appear.

In Internal Audit it is important to be able to observe and see what is there.  A colleague of mine, while at the Ultra City before Escort, observed a man entering the filling station with a plastic bag and leaving without it.  Now this seems odd as normally it would be the reverse where you leave with the packet.  There are several conclusions you can reach about what transpired – he was returning an article – he worked in the shop – it could have been a bomb. You can tell a lot by the way the person is carrying themselves (their posture, their eyes) but a true trickster can hide this with confidence and mislead most people.  Internal Auditors observe what is there and then obtain evidence or facts through discussion, enquiry and scrutiny of documentation.

When visiting a site the first thing that I do is a “walkabout”, where I take a walk through the site.  The simple things to look for are housekeeping (is everything orderly or disorganised), security (is the site safeguarded, access control, CCTV etc.) and then the attitude of the employees (do they smile and greet you, are they surly, how are they dressed).  It is important to also observe the state of repair of the buildings and equipment.  It does not take any learned skill or qualification to observe.  We all live in houses and most of us drive cars so we know when something looks in good condition or not. By observing the condition of the area you can get some idea of how the business is run.   If the flowers or plants in the reception are dying then this does not bode well for the success of the business.  Appearance is important and can tell you a lot.  Then you start digging.

One of the auditor’s most successful skills and one you do not learn at university is the skill of observation.

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