Internal auditors’ recommendations for corrective action don’t always receive a positive client reception. In fact, some recommendations may receive a significant amount of pushback from the client. Some of these reasons may be legitimate, like when the auditor does not test enough transactions, talk to the appropriate individuals, perform procedures that are relevant given the objectives of the review, or show that the work performed helps to support the organization’s objectives. When this happens, process owners have an understandable reason for pushing back.
Other instances of auditee pushback may be excuses not to do what should be done. In either case, the outcome is often the same: the auditor attempts to convince the client about the virtues of the recommendation, while the client objects. The auditor then retorts by re-emphasizing the virtues of the recommendation, while the client continues to repeat and raise objections. If this situation is mishandled, it can lead to an impasse that forces the audit committee to settle the matter, and someone wins while someone loses. These are not desirable or very productive outcomes.
To help prevent this scenario, auditors may want to consider using the Force Field Analysis. This is a great decision-making tool to identify the forces for and against a course of action. It is a technique to list, discuss and evaluate the forces that support or hinder a decision, and it is useful to resolve a conflict of opinions, to analyze the pros and cons of a decision or recommendation, and to evaluate the strength and weaknesses of an idea, product, or project.
It can also help to strategize the best way to present the information by understanding the big picture, and it forces the proposal’s advocate to “walk a mile in the auditees’ shoes.” By understanding the auditees’ perspective, the auditor is more aware of the challenges that the client faces and can show empathy during the process.
A Force Field Analysis can be instrumental when applied to an internal audit recommendation to understand the pros and cons of the action, make sure it is a well-reasoned plan, and demonstrate the results to audit clients. Many people struggle when trying to make a decision, sometimes due to limited resources, conflicting priorities, insufficient know-how, and other reasons. It is similar to the pros-and-cons analysis many people have performed formally or informally when deciding where to go on vacation, what restaurant to go to for dinner, what car to buy, or which elective to choose at school. So, it is useful and productive when making personal decisions, and it is also useful and effective when making important business decisions because it provides a structured decision-making technique.
Force Field Analysis Example. Credit: Mind Tools
How to Prepare a Force Field Analysis
The analysis can be done on a simple piece of paper, computer screen, flipchart or whiteboard.
Step 1. Draw a large T
Step 2. Write the goal, objective or recommendation at the top of the diagram
Step 3. Think about the forces that are driving change and write them on the left side of the diagram. Brainstorming can be particularly useful to identify as many forces as possible. Involving others, such as team members, audit clients, and subject matter experts, is also recommended. These forces for change can be internal or external and may include:
• Internal: Poor morale, inadequate equipment, excessive costs, regulatory or customer requirements
• External: Regulatory requirements, competition, disruptive technologies, changing demographics, cost pressures
Step 4. Now think about the forces against change and write them on the right side of the diagram. These are the forces that hinder, are unfavorable, and in general, resist the goal, objective or recommendation. These forces against change can also be internal or external and may include:
• Internal drivers: Fear of change, existing organizational structure, negative attitudes, culture
• External drivers: Regulations, commitments to customers and suppliers
Step 5. Assign a score to each driving and opposing factor. The rating scale can vary. You could use High, Medium, Low, or a scale from 1: Weak to 5: Strong, based on the amount of influence each force has on the plan. When done, add up the scores for each of the sides.
Step 6. Analyze the results. Based on the scores obtained, it is now easier to determine which side: for or against, has a higher score. With this information, you can decide whether or not to go ahead with the recommendation. You can also strategize ways to support and strengthen the forces for and weaken or counteract the forces against. These actions will help to make the presentation of the idea more successful. Strategies for adopting the recommendation may include training staff, sharing samples and templates, providing cost-benefit or payback results, and offering to provide consulting support.
By using a Force Field Analysis, internal auditors can avoid the bias of only focusing on the arguments for, and also examine the arguments against when presenting the matter to audit clients. This allows the presenter to address the objections and provide practical, realistic, cost-effective arguments to address those objections pre-emptively. If the client has other objections, the meeting has already taken a collaborative tone, and the internal auditors have demonstrated their desire to examine both sides of the situation and a willingness to discuss the situation openly. This demonstrates fairness, an unbiased disposition, a pragmatic mindset, and respect for the client’s situation.
For change to occur, the forces “for” must be strengthened and the forces “against” must be weakened. This tool helps us analyze these opposite forces and communicate the reasoning behind the recommendation made. By addressing objections proactively, it provides a useful negotiation and conflict resolution technique that goes beyond relying exclusively on the auditors’ desired course of action. It helps internal auditors demonstrate their understanding of both sides of an argument, show their balanced view of a subject, and will improve the interaction with audit clients.
Interested in learning more about this and other tools and techniques? Join Dr. Murdock when he teaches Lean Six Sigma Skills for Auditors, Internal Audit School, and High-Impact Skills for Developing and Leading Your Audit Team.