Picture yourself on a Friday afternoon at the office during reporting season. Your colleagues and you are working hard towards a reporting deadline. The progress signal has already turned from Green to Amber.
If you guys don’t pull out all the stops and go for broke, it will go Red. So will the management of the company where you work when they try to explain the delay to stakeholders.
Along comes the auditor who has to review the work and sign-off. Although for this particular report, he will not be auditing the numbers, he comes up with a piece of information which on first look is not relevant to the current report and can be put in as a note for the future. It will not impact the report but not humoring the auditor may result in a delay in the sign-off.
Leave management alone for the moment, you and your colleagues, worn out from late night working are seeing red and ready to gore the auditor who is simply managing his risk and trying to “add value” to justify his fees at what I would describe is a most inopportune time. The auditor with his new information becomes a problem. It is up to you to decide the magnitude of the problem as well as how to solve it.
Since the auditor interacts with higher management, it would not be a good time to launch into criticism and shoot him down as a problem-solving option. Besides, the auditor may have inadvertently brought up a point which may require some attention and more than just a line in your report. Perhaps an acknowledgement that an issue is developing but that the outcome can only be determined when more information is available or that the outcome cannot be quantified will be enough?
So one of you is delegated to have a quick look at the issue and you confirm that it is not relevant right now. A one-liner or two in the report suffices and you can proceed with the task at hand.
But what about Mr Auditor, who having alerted management to the issue will now require justification to prove him wrong and is going hammer and tongs with his emails to your team and management? Do you shoot off emails left, right and centre criticizing him? Not a good idea. For one, you still have to work with the auditor this year. For another, most people respond defensively when receiving criticism. You don’t want Mr Auditor seeing red! You also don’t have the time to launch into the finer aspects of constructive criticism which would anyhow be out of place in this scenario since the auditor is not your subordinate or reporting to you. Still, a message has to be conveyed to Mr Auditor and management has to receive justification for not changing the decided action plan.
At this point, you need to kill two birds with one stone without upsetting anyone.
You could still go with the problem solving approach wherein a meeting would be held with the auditor and minutes forwarded to management. The emphasis here would be on solving the problem by getting the team members and auditor involved, listening to their views, and depersonalizing the criticism. There goes the rest of Friday too.
Persuasion Approach to Problem Solving
A better way out in this scenario would be to use the persuasion approach, where the team leader does more talking than listening and appeals to the person’s interest or desire. Using this approach shows understanding of the person’s concerns and issues and stresses the potential positive outcomes.
So, assuming that you now have the information you need to confirm your viewpoint, instead of talking, compose a memo to be sent to the team’s reporting manager who will then take the initiative of forwarding it to the auditor and any other relevant stakeholder and proceed with your work to make Amber go back to Green instead.
My suggested approach before writing your memo would be:
Plan your persuasion approach by jotting down notes on all the points to be covered. In this case, double check for accuracy of facts with the team member who took time out to do the extra research.
Start writing your memo and discuss only the specifics, which would include any future actions or outcomes (or both).
Write down some things that you can say to show understanding to the auditor or other party. Make sure that you do write something positive for the other person.
Indicate what steps you have taken and also those that you intend to take including an action plan to be tabled for a meeting in the future with all parties, if necessary.
The problem may not disappear immediately but having made a written business case based on facts, you can use the art of persuasion to bring others around to your viewpoint.
So send off the memo to your reporting manager and get back to work!
Are you having similar problems at work and need to learn how to handle them? Share in the comments area and let me see how I can assist.
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