Working It Out
Lessons from a Former Auditor, Part 3
By Jason Rohlf
Seven-and-a-half years and counting. In my 22+ years as a full-time employee, my current job is, by far, my personal record for most consecutive time working with one company. My second longest tenure? A whopping four years. From there my stints range from “just long enough where I can round up and call it 2.5 years” to “6 months to the day.” I also know a lot of folks who have boomeranged and ended up where they used to work after some time away; I have not yet experienced this phenomenon. Up until this point I had accepted the fact that a gold watch and a plaque commemorating decades served were not in my future.
I’ve thought a lot about why I’ve always had these spurts in job tenure. The humble brag part of me likes to think that I got so bored in these jobs that I had to stretch my wings, shake off the dust of my surroundings and venture out towards my limitless potential (Note: this is not reality). The super-insecure part of me believes that I had worn out my welcome. That the people I worked with were on to me and my complete lack of aptitude, and it was only a matter of time before my fraud was exposed and I’d be forced to leave, cloaked in shame (also not the case).
The truth is more complex than that. I know that there were many reasons why (see my Lesson 1 blog) I ended up seeking out new opportunities. Sometimes it was related to compensation. Other times I was desperately seeking a change in work/life balance. In more than one case, I was actually bored beyond comprehension. In one particular instance, the firm I worked for simply ceased to exist. And though I wouldn’t ever peg it as the actual reason I left, I would also suspect there are a few folks out there with whom I actually did wear out my welcome.
In the grand scheme of things, the reasons I moved were as varied as the companies I worked for and as unique as the people I’ve worked with, but there is one constant that I am very proud of: I learned something of value every step of the way. Because much of my professional career has been spent as an internal auditor or seeking to help internal auditors, I have a tendency to place much of what I’ve learned in the context of the profession. I’ve been writing and talking lately about what drives auditors to do what they do, as well as going a bit deeper on how they can do this with a mindful consideration of the risks they face. To put a cap on this topic, I’d like to offer up a few lessons that the profession has taught me along the way that have helped me continue to grow, regardless of where I’m doing my growing.
Work Diligently and Thoughtfully, and Good Things Will Happen
This is my “sometimes the best lessons to learn are the hard ones” offering. I wish I could say that everything I am I owe to the tireless work ethic I’ve fostered since day one on the job. I cannot. In fact, there were stretches in the early part of my career where the best adjective I can muster up to describe them is wayward. The real value of this lesson for me is in another I’ve learned: It’s never too late.
I don’t mean this in the most literal sense, i.e. it’s not too late for me to be an NHL player, I just need to work at it and it’ll happen! Delusions aside, I found out in my early 30s that my career was not ruined, and that I could in fact make a conscious decision to put more effort and focus into my work. Now to me this did not mean work 75-hour weeks or get ahead by any means necessary. It came down to what I’ve already mentioned: effort and focus. Put them at the forefront of whatever you’re doing and let the rest fall where it may. When I did this, wouldn’t you know it? Good things started (and continue) to happen.
Not Everyone Is Going to Like You, and That’s Fine
I remember when I was a kid and there was someone in my school that simply didn’t want to be friends with me. I took it as a personal affront and in some cases bent over backwards to try and make them like me. My mom would say, “If they don’t want to be friends with you then they don’t deserve to be your friend,” which sounded like gobbledygook at the time, but now makes quite a bit of sense.
My career has been much like school in this regard. There have been coworkers, clients, managers and the like who I simply didn’t gel with. And when you’re an internal auditor, it can be quite pronounced. Through their smiles, their eyes screamed “you’re out to get me you little sneak”. Or they actually screamed it at you (I prefer the polite-if-insincere decorum of the former). Early on I took a lot of this stuff personally, and let’s face it, there are times where it may have actually been personal. But personal or not, it stung.
What I have come to realize is that there is almost always much more to these situations than meets the eye. People are always dealing with something we can’t know or understand, and how that makes them act isn’t anything I can control. The only thing we can control is how we respond to it. I could fight fire with fire, but that gets me nowhere fast. Instead, I’ve learned that kindness, professionalism and doing great work are the best ways to interact with someone in a professional setting who I don’t see eye to eye with. They can dislike me all they want, but they’re going to need to respect what I bring to the table. Which brings me to the next point.
When You do Right by People, You Will Form Meaningful and Lasting Relationships
Employing those tactics for dealing with difficult people—kindness, professionalism, doing your best—and doing so by a factor of 100 with those who show you the same respect can only lead to good things. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to be your best friend in the whole world, but there’s something about two people treating each other with dignity and respect that forms a bond. And let’s face it, in the world I work and live in, relationships are as essential as water and oxygen are to carbon-based life forms.
In the audit world, this does not mean you give everyone a clean audit report so that they will be your pal. On the contrary, most people I’ve dealt with in this situation are open-minded when presented with facts and appreciative when there is an effort made to collaborate. Nobody wants to be caught off guard, especially in the throes of an audit, so being factual, independent and fair can help make things go much smoother. The best part? You do this enough with the right people and an amazing thing happens: they become one of your best friends. And who can’t use more of those?
Variety Is the Spice of Life
One of the best bosses I’ve ever worked for was giving me my performance review, during which she said, “What do you want to be doing in the next few years?” After passionately laying out my plan to become an audit manager, then senior manager, then director, then CAE, then audit committee chair, she paused and said “Don’t do that—go do other things.”
At first I thought, “Wow, she doesn’t want me working for her.” I think she saw this on my face so she quickly added that she thought I’d be best served by playing a variety of roles in different groups or companies—if I really wanted to be a strong and respected auditor, the experience of being outside of the audit world would serve me very well when I got back into it. That was about 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve had a chance to do things I never thought I’d have a chance to do (or even knew people did) and I’ve met so many great people along the way, too many to even count (see my Lesson 2 blog).
This brings me back to my original thought about my job-hopping ways. I think my boss who gave me that advice knew me pretty well, probably better than I knew myself. She saw that I was itchy, that I wanted to figure out new things and that I wouldn’t do well in a situation that was to a large extent, repeatable. Go see new things, do new stuff and keep an open mind along the way. It’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned, and I lend much of what I have now to her guidance.
I guess that’s the final lesson in internal audit—there’s something to gain at each step in the process. Once I stopped worrying about where I was going to end up and thought more about why I was even doing it, the lessons clicked. I hope they can for you, too.