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Communicating Audit Results So That Management Loves Them

Despite our best efforts, management isn’t always sold on recommendations from compliance projects and audits. Presenting the facts alone may not convince them to act. That’s why communicating audit results the right way is essential. When you do that, you can get management to embrace your findings and actually LOVE them.

A Quick Exercise to Get You Thinking

Before explaining how you can start communicating audit results more effectively, I have a little exercise for you…

Take a deep breath, relax, and close your eyes. Think about a recent moment where you thought or said aloud, “I really LOVED that ______.”

I’m not referring to how you feel about the people in your life—your partner, child, friend, or someone else important to you. Instead, let’s focus on an experience. It may be a restaurant, movie, book, vacation trip, or anything else. “I LOVE that television show!” Dive deep into what you were feeling and why.

Now, shift your focus to your work. Has anyone you serve in your job ever said about one of your recommendations, “[Name], I LOVE that idea.” Perhaps further, “Thank you so much. Your suggestion will save us time and money and make me look like a hero to my boss!”

One last time, shift to a moment in your work where you LOVED an idea someone else presented to you. Why did you LOVE it? How did you feel about it—in detail? Was it because of…

Or was it just a simple emotional reaction to a great idea?

You’re likely wondering where I’m going with this. After all, this is a business-focused article, not an opinion piece on the power of LOVE to heal, build better relationships, or solve a past hurt. And for those familiar with my business skills training and consulting work over the last 46 years, you may think, “John’s gone ‘round the bend’ and finally lost it!” At 68 and firmly in the last quarter of my career, that day may be on the distant horizon, but I assure you it’s not here yet.

There’s a point to this exercise. It’s to get you thinking about things you or others have loved—and, more importantly, why. It helps you change your mindset. Once you do that, you’re more open to seeing how emotion can help communicate audit and other consultative project suggestions and share ideas better.

The Role of Emotion in Successful Ideas

In their fantastic book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, author-brothers Chip and Dan Heath build a compelling case about the connection between successful ideas that influence action and the emotional reaction to those ideas. In short, Made to Stick refers to creating and communicating “sticky ideas”—ones that stick in our thoughts and, as a result, increase the probability of action.

The authors emphasize that, among other attributes—simple, concrete, and credible, to name just three—sticky ideas are emotional. That is, the idea must connect emotionally with those we are attempting to influence in addition to being specific, concrete, and credible. Emotion plays a significant role in sharing ideas and communicating audit and similar ideas that get people to act.

Relevant emotions include the following:

Does the recommendation make the manager feel safe? Does it not only solve a problem but also relieve the anxiety inherent in trying something different? Does our work frustrate the manager? Or does it make them feel that their investment in the project, audit, or other initiative brought them real measurable value—on their terms, not ours?

As you’re communicating results, you can easily use emotion to your advantage. You just need to be mindful of how you’re presenting your ideas to management. That is, what words you’re using.

Here are some examples of words we commonly use. From the point of view of a manager hearing a new idea from an auditor or other compliance professional, what would be your “emotional reaction” to the following?

Remember, it’s about their reaction to these terms, not yours.

Now, let’s try the same exercise with their words. What would be a manager’s immediate emotional reaction to hearing about the following?

By comparison, does this second list generate a more positive reaction? It should. It does for pretty much every manager everywhere.

The challenge is presenting business compliance-focused ideas in terms that are appealing to the listener.

And here’s exactly why this positive emotional reaction is so important. In business, information and action alternatives are provided in facts and figures through research results, “heat sheet” risk matrices, audit findings, and recommendations.

But action decisions among those alternatives are made based on emotion. And what’s the most powerful human emotion? That’s easy: LOVE.

Solutions and Experiences Management Love

People LOVE it when we bring or facilitate solutions. Specifically, they love solutions that provide clear and specific benefits. That includes solutions that improve how they are measured, eliminate inefficient steps, save time, reduce administrative burden and related headaches, and provide them with better pay today and advancement opportunities tomorrow. You know, the very things that matter to managers. These are reasonable common-sense solutions that cause the listener to think, “Yeah. That will work—for me and for us.” And they’re solutions we should be featuring when communicating our recommendations.

People LOVE it when we keep them well informed using what customer service expert Shep Hyken calls “transparent communication.” This is when we bring others up to date regularly, provide all appropriate details, and erase any doubt or mystery about “Where are we on this?” I can’t remember where I first heard or read it—but it is still on a post-it note beside my desk. “Communication is not a skill. It is the skill.”

People LOVE it when our ideas catch their eye, grab their attention, and quickly tell them exactly what they need to know. For example, in my business fraud risk management training and consulting, I help clients and training participants…

…and do all of the above at once. If you communicate results in a clear, concise way and explain what there is to gain, you’ll have a better chance of getting managers on board.

People LOVE it when our ideas are backed up by social proof. Social proof comes from examples we offer of how people just like them have already used the recommendation and succeeded. For example, “Sharon and her team in the Northern Division took on this issue last quarter. Here’s exactly what they did and where they are today just two months later. Sharon’s solution should work for you and your team as well.”

People LOVE it when our recommendations are crystal clear about the very first step in a process. “To avoid any mistakes getting started, here’s the first step to take.” Lay it out for them, and don’t risk any confusion.

People LOVE it when our ideas make them feel safe. Uncertainty causes anxiety. Does our idea reduce the normal, natural anxiety in trying something new? Or does it increase their uncertainty and stress?

People LOVE it when our ideas “look upstream.” Upstream solutions address not just the problem or situation as it exists today. Upstream solutions look a week, month, year, or further into the future. “This plan not only solves your issue today but should position you and your team to be better prepared to meet your _________ (information, cash flow, technology, service capability, staffing, raw materials, product, etc.) needs next quarter and beyond.”

People LOVE it when we radiate heat. They LOVE it when our suggestions and improvement ideas are delivered with energy. They LOVE it when they can feel our passion. By putting in the effort, you can deliver an amazing audit experience.

And they LOVE it when our idea, recommendation, suggestion, hint, nudge, or whatever else you want to call it makes them a hero. Communicating audit and other results by framing them as things THEY can do to get a win can have a major impact.

Start Communicating Ideas by Bringing the Love

Getting management excited about your recommendations can be challenging. But communicating ideas the right way can make all the difference. So, the next time you’re laying out an idea or assisting management with a compliance or performance issue, bring the LOVE. And watch what happens.