How to Review Working Papers and Still Win Friends and Influence People

Lessening tension in the review process

Bill calls Janet saying, “You can review the working papers. We’re two days past the deadline, so we need to turn this one around today. Sorry for the late notice.”

Picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

Picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

Janet feels her blood pressure rise and taps her fingers on the desk. “I have three other audits queued up for review. Which partner do you want me disappoint?”

The conversation goes silent. Tension fills the air. Still more silence.

“I’ll see what I can do, but please give me more advance notice in the future. This is the third time this has happened in the last few months.”

Janet begins reviewing the working papers. As is her habit, she starts with the engagement letter, but it’s nowhere to be found. She makes a review note. The risk assessment documentation looks good. She thinks to herself, “The walkthroughs have improved, analytics are better, and the planning document has a nice summary of risks and responses.”

She reviews the financial statements, seeing only one deficiency–the fair value note needs improvement.

She calls Bill to advise him of the disclosure change. He hears her words, still laced with tension. A pang of guilt washes over him. He wishes he would have completed this job sooner—and the last two engagements.

As Janet is completing Bill’s review, she receives two phone calls concerning the other jobs. When will she be done? What is taking so long?

How Bill Can Win Friends and Influence People

Bill needs to provide Janet with adequate time for reviewing working papers. Granted, timeliness can’t always happen. But give as much advance notice as possible. Bill knows the job is running late. Calling Janet two days earlier–to let her know the job will need a quick turn-around–would be a big help.

Bill should also let Janet know that certain documents–such as the engagement letter–are not in the file and why.

Bill may need some assistance in project management. If “this is the third time this has happened,” maybe Bill needs to take some continuing education regarding efficiency and organization.

How Janet Can Win Friends and Influence People

Let’s face it. The pressure in public accounting is unrelenting, so finding the better angels of our nature can be challenging. But this we know: Janet will foster greater cooperation with patience. Friction is not your friend.

Few people enjoy having their work reviewed, so reviewers do well to critique kindly. We need to be clear regarding suggested corrections, but–more than anything–we need to be respectful.

While I understand Janet’s “this is the third time” comment, these words need to be avoided–until a later date, after the tension fades. Should Janet address the problem with Bill? Yes, but save the conversation for another day.

Where possible, emphasize improvements. Janet noticed the risk assessment documentation is better. Including this positive review note goes a long way in “winning friends and influencing people.”

The firm needs a policy that clearly defines the review process. Generally, work should be reviewed on a first-in, first-out basis. There will be exceptions; but if people–like Bill–repeatedly turn work in late, the managing partner may need to provide direction. If there are multiple “Bills,” Janet’s review role can become overwhelming.

Here are some suggested guidelines firms can use:

  • Engagements will be reviewed on a first-in, first-out basis
  • Feedback will be in writing
  • Feedback will be respectful
  • Feedback will be timely (if the reviewer waits a week to complete a review, the audit team may not be available for clearing the comments)
  • Reviewers will accumulate summaries of findings on a firm-wide basis (then the firm can develop continuing education classes to remediate the issues)
  • Reviewers will have sufficient industry knowledge (for the engagements reviewed)

Action to be Taken

If your firm doesn’t already have written review guidelines, consider developing those. Much confusion can be avoided by having a protocol–that way, everyone knows the drill.

If you do have written review guidelines, consider reviewing them for improvement.

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