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Do’s and don’ts when working with auditors

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Auditors and regulators often make people cringe. Most people think of a person from the IRS showing up at your door asking for the last 20 years of tax returns and bringing out the fire hoses and German Shepherds. That seems like child’s play compared to auditors, regulators, and compliance for many organizations nowadays. Companies are being more closely scrutinized and rightfully so with often bad and sometimes criminal behavior. At the same time companies do a lot of good and are a fundamental part of society and part of what makes America great.

What do you do when you get that knock on the door by audit or the emailed information request or you are asked to speak with auditors regarding data, processes, etc.? The answer is simple and can be stated in three sentences:

  • Review and comprehend the information request: Make sure to understand what is being requested, when it is due, and what it is really seeking. Now some of these items you can clarify with the regulator or auditor what is really being asked but don’t be a person that needs positive affirmation or engagement with the regulators.
  • Research and process the information request: Regulatory requests sometimes take detective work with the rest being straightforward requests. Taking the time to quickly assess what type of request and the bandwidth needed to complete and currently available resources is essential to make sure things are completed timely.
  • Respond to the request concisely, timely, and accurately: Being concise helps you provide the information that is requested and respectful of her time. At same time being concise alleviates the potential misunderstanding that may occur with superfluous information. Understand when the request is due and do not wait until the last day to respond — if you have the response ready send it. Most of all you should be providing accurate information. Don’t mess up your reputation with taking shortcuts here.

While this post is meant for audit, regulators, and compliance in mind, these words of advice apply to many other instances such as requests from your boss, the CEO, or even your spouse. Thinking about these three easy steps and following them will help you be more successful in responses to audit, regulators, and compliance.

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Do not let perfection get in the way of progress

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There is always the quality versus quantity mantra we all hear. Almost every leader says they stress quality. But, quality does not mean perfection and most people get caught in this trap. Most highly successful people ensure that progress is being made and do not let perfection get in the way.

I know at this point you are going to say wait how about people like the late Steve Jobs and his relentless pursuit of perfect design at Apple. Certainly there is an argument that Steve Jobs would not tolerate anything but perfection but he also realized that progress mattered also. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple he quickly reduced the number of products to devote resources to ensure desired progress could be made.

Insisting on perfection for everything generally results in a bad return on your investment. In the past big brands would have expensive, perfection-focused marketing campaigns that were completely planned out prior to beginning. Nowadays there is a push on agile marketing for a better return on investment since it is an iterative approach that allows for progress and does not require perfection. Another example is people in the past would ensure that they have perfect emails or letters to communicate with their colleagues and this formality had a cost. Nowadays there is a push to use instant messaging or texting to communicate messages with a push towards making progress. Highly successful people are leaders in identifying what “level of perfection” each situation warrants with the eye towards progress.

Here are a few helpful tips to help you avoid the trap of letting perfection get in the way of progress trap:

  • Value: Understand the value of whatever you are doing. This is true whether it is customer facing or not. Not all emails are the same. Not all memos are the same. Not all processes are the same. Knowing what your objective is and what value it is going to provide. Of course when you are talking about releasing a end facing customer product this value is a lot different than putting together an internal memo on some run of the mill internal process change.
  • Perfect vs. good enough: Compare the cost and benefit of the perfect versus good enough. Progress is often ruled by the good enough. There is often a lot of value by implementing something and learning from it and then adjusting it. This is at the core of agile product development and concepts like the minimum viable product mentioned by people like Eric Ries in the Lean Startup.
  • Urgency: Many times there is urgency in getting something completed and by the very nature of spending more time to get perfect will result in the urgency of the item to be missed. Just think of a customer that has a critical problem with your product and they need a solution now. They do not need a perfect solution 4 weeks from now but instead want something now to get things moving again.

Most people want to do a good job and highly successful people want to ensure their brand is strong and they deliver a quality product. However, those same successful people understand that having everything perfect means you just don’t get what you need done. Understand where to put your resources and be alright with saying something is good enough.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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What is your brand?

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Everyone knows about Coca-Cola, Apple, and McDonald’s brand but if people described your brand what would they say? Will people unanimously answer vigorously that you are awesome to work with and deliver or will there be a lukewarm or maybe negative response. Today a person’s brand is more complicated and important than ever — we have a global marketplace where people have small attention spans.

Building a brand is not easy and takes work and is not done in isolation. You build your brand by your actions, words, company kept, organizations you are part of, and many more things. In today’s information age workers should consciously start building their brand by:

  • Be a person that delivers: I will always continue to hire a person that has a reputation of and is focused on delivering results. As a manager this is what you want because it reduces uncertainty. The key to being a person that delivers is understanding your capabilities and bandwidth. Don’t make promises you can’t deliver and always slightly over deliver. Help guide managers into developing expectations where you can consistently over deliver.
  • Be a problem solver: Good information workers must be good self-driven problem solvers. Often times you will get bogged down with projects and deadlines but investing some time in problem solving will help you, your team, your department, and your company. Invest the extra time here because it will pay off but make sure you take credit for it in a tactful way.
  • Be a person with integrity: A person driven on doing what is right and doing it with integrity will always have a solid brand. People will trust you, ask your opinion, and share information with you. It is important that you uphold this trust and be driven by what is right. Do not put yourself in a situation that would compromise this brand and if you realize you are in a situation then getting out of that situation is essential.
  • Be a thought leader: Thought leadership takes less than you think. Everyone can demonstrate this as an information worker. Pick an area that interests you and is relevant to your career whether it is denial of service attacks if you work in information security or Google search engine optimization for online retailers. There are many ways to do this especially in the virtual world like blogging on a subject, tweeting actively on a subject, or participating in online groups. There are also many good professional associations or physical journals where you can participate. Remember that becoming a thought leader requires investment in time and should be something that is a long horizon but rewards can happen pretty quickly. But more importantly, you should enjoy learning and educating others about your thought leadership if you are going to be successful.

These are key attributes that if you are lucky will define your brand but there are many things other things, positive and negative, that make up your brand. Understanding yourself and your brand and continually building that brand will make your career and life more successful. This self-brand understanding requires the input of trusted and honest friends and colleagues. Ask the hard questions and make sure your brand is increasing and course correct as needed based on feedback.

As always appreciate your feedback, emails, comments, likes, and re-tweets!

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Quitting is underrated

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Most of us have probably dreamed of some elaborate “I quit!” scenario whether it is a job we hate, a relationship that is dysfunctional, or a hobby or sport in which we just suck. At the same time most of us have also been raised with a “don’t quit” mentality. Our society has a negative connotation of quitting and this perseverance likely comes from America’s immigrant spirit. Famous people continue this message like Vince Lombardi who said “winners never quit and quitters never win.” Further, one of the most listed traits to be successful is having “grit”. However, there is also the success that people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg both had after quitting Harvard University or Steve Jobs had after quitting Reed College.

Quitting should not be the first choice but you need to be able to quit at the right time and stick it out at the right time. Many people have the tendency to either be quick quitters that rarely achieve and are not thinking big picture. Other people are the never quitters that will stick out about anything whether it be for loyalty or feeling of failure and results in other opportunities passing them by. Just like any big decision in life the key is to analyze it and come to a decision and once decision is made own that decision.

Ignore the naysayers – quitting is good and is an important option that should be used when appropriate. Things to consider when determining when to quit:

  1. Pros and Cons: Yes pro-and-con lists do work and are important and will repeated throughout different posts. However, when doing a pro-and-cons list make sure to do some weighting and things that are the big factors should count more than things that are minor factors. Do not list 100 pro and cons and instead focus on the key items and I try to never have more than 10 and generally it is 5 or less that are really the key pro and cons to focus on and weight.
  2. Get Perspective: Making any major decision means emotion plays a part. Having a group of trusted people that are people that you can rely on telling you that you are full of it.
  3. Why?: Are you quitting for better opportunity or just quitting because of a bad opportunity? In the job setting quitting because of a bad current opportunity often leads you to another bad opportunity — make sure you are leaving jobs for a good opportunity. Of course this factor does not apply the same for relationships and hobbies.:)

Information workers are fortunate people that get to do cool things and are talented and smart and should embrace quitting when it makes sense. So whenever you are quitting your job, relationship, or company’s softball team consider the pros and cons, get perspective, and ask why and if quitting is the right route then own it.

As always I appreciate your comments, emails, likes, and re-tweets!

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