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Here’s a bit of interesting news this week. As we all begin to work on the delivery of our New Year’s resolutions, many of which will involve losing a little bit of weight and exercising more, it has been reported in the UK press that being a little overweight actually improves healthy outcomes compared to being a ‘healthy’ weight. Sorry – being obese is still bad news though.

It got me thinking that this relates to organisations too. It is the comparison between efficient and effective. Now most of my public sector clients have never got close to being ruthlessly efficient. But some of my charitable and private sector ones have. You could always tell a private sector business under pressure when the basics of employee life were pressured. Little travel, tight training budgets, older IT, cheap coffee, poorly decorated and spartan offices etc. You could tell it in major processes, for example,  planning and risk management would wither. Audit would be cheap and cheerful, not robust and challenging. Arguably the time when those organisations needed a better and more challenging internal audit.

If you compare the idea of efficient versus effective. Customers sometimes like inefficiency. The coffee barista that talks to you, has time to engage with you as a human being; the financial services salesperson that has time to discuss what you really need; the academic that has time away from writing papers and teaching to really think; the government policy unit that has real space to fully assess policies’ effectiveness etc.

Also organisations face change, either self imposed or externally imposed. Organisations, people, IT, HR, structures, all take space and time to change. It would, therefore, be sensible for organisations to have some space, redundancy, to make those changes. Think about those tiled picture games you had when you were a child. The whole problem in re-organising the picture came from the single one space around which the rest of the picture had to tesselate. Have more space and changing the picture is easy. Thus I think it is within organisations.

The timeline equivalent of space is good risk management. A big risk, managed whilst still afar off, creates space of time and thought to deal with it. A proximate risk or issue being managed in the here and now does not. Solutions implemented under such circumstances are rarely tidy, beautiful, and most importantly, effective. A short term fix rarely sticks in my experience.

I have been lucky to work with clients that understand that a little bit of fatness helps and have planned for this. My job as an internal auditor is to ensure the governance structures prevent this turning into middle-aged (or old aged) ‘spread’. For being grossly fat does, still, apparently kill.

Time for your internal audit to be a personal trainer?

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