Culture and ethics are among the words which are often misused. Among the social sciences words which define themselves in ambiguity, culture would be among the top ones. For many, anything which one does not fully understand, it becomes a ‘cultural’ issue.
‘Culture’ is seen sometimes as the grey area between truth and falsehood. Truth is the truth because it can be annotated, it has evidence, it has its footnotes, and it is self-evident.
The opposite of it is falsehood. But between truth and falsehood is a huge grey area where interpretations come in, where postures come in, where styles come in and above all, given the human nature, ‘convenience’ comes in. Nobody wants to be on the losing side.
So, one has phrases like “No, what I really meant was”, or “I’m being quoted out of context”, or “That is not my intention, let me restate it” and then one goes ahead to say exactly the opposite of what one said the first instance. So, culture is a defining perspective of one’s thought process and approach, and mental attitudes.
It can be argued that audit is as much an art as a science. It is a science when it is toolbox oriented. There, one has people swearing on it, and on technology and how much of technology can be used to replace the human element of correlations. Finding the fault lines is also seen as an advantage. However, the more important part is that in the ultimate analysis, it is one’s ability to sense a problem which becomes the hallmark of a good auditor. Indeed, internal audit and statutory audit are not all that different other than the legal weightage which is assigned to their roles.
So, there is a huge need for auditors to have a clinical sense in understanding what is it at fault, simultaneously, what is the strength of the organization. An audit report need not be just a drain master’s report. It is not there for fault finding. It is there for assessing and defining organizational health. So, culture is that subtle approach between the technicalities of the audit profession and the sensitivities of the audit professional of how one goes about it.
It is not a question of how one dresses. Or how one parts ones hair or how one postures or how one chooses ones words row one walks through truths and falsehoods.
There are other ways of defining culture. It’s easy to get tripped up when one is talking of things like culture, and it is even more so when you talk of ethics.
Ethics is a very slippery ground. Reflections on the word ethics can be easy if one does not mystify it. This is so because no matter what one does, whether it is as per the statute book, or it is not as per the statute book, whether it is through the 10 commandments or the directives of the holy books of different religions or not, each one does what he does because he, at that point of time, considers it the right option to exercise. Otherwise, one wouldn’t do it. That person sees that behavior as the best choice. Therefore, to oneself, one is right.
It is only the collective judgment on one’s action which makes it right or wrong. Therefore, ethics walks on two legs. One is a personal orientation and the other is the collective response to that orientation. In fact, even collectives have their own ethics.
Ethics is part of self-image. Ethics is also a part of a definition, whether it be individual’s definition or a collective’s definition. When it comes to audit, one has to make sure whether action is as per the statute book/is as per the highest professional standards?
What are the highest professional standards? Ethics would be that which works for the good of the organization and is correct in itself.