I’m a brain surgeon, me

I love what I do – but I don’t enjoy trying to explain it at parties…

brain-surgeonIt happens to all of us at some time. You’re at a party with friends, who invited a few new people. The conversation, like the wine, is in full flow. You’re feeling relaxed. And then the conversation takes a turn for the worse, as someone you’ve never met before asks you “so what it is that you DO?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do
Explaining it in a sentence or two
Is harder, you see
I don’t grow anything, make anything,
sell anything. What I do is for people
like them, and thee
But to make the party question go away
It’s easier to say
I’m a brain surgeon, me

I’m not really. And I’m obviously not a poet, either. My job title – if that’s what people are looking for – gives little away. I’m a performance auditor. Hmm – not much clearer there, then. It’s hard for my colleagues in financial audit, too – we had a go here at explaining what they get up to in their work.

management-systemOK, so admit it, you are mildly intrigued, even if that’s as mildly as the mildest thing on planet mild – so what’s a performance audit then? Well, a good definition is “an independent examination of a program, function, operation or the management systems and procedures of a governmental or non-profit entity to assess whether the entity is achieving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the employment of available resources”.

Try saying that between sips of your Central Otago Pinot Noir – I told you “brain surgeon” was easier.

Bear with me, there are some parallels. For example, it wouldn’t be much good if part of your brain told your right leg to move in one direction, while another part told the rest of you to carry on sitting where you are. Sometimes in our work we find a great plan at the centre of an entity, but communicating that plan to the rest of the organisation hasn’t been as good. It’s the equivalent of your brain sending off impulses to only one part of the body, and leaves you vulnerable and unco-ordinated. Unless all the extremities get the message, you won’t get to where you need to go, and that means you won’t do the things you need to.

In the entities we audit, it matters that they plan and carry out that planning well. The senior managers in those entities need to communicate the reasons for change to all of their staff, because it is those staff who make the biggest difference to the way people are served by the public sector.

We speak to hundreds of staff working on the front-line in public services every year. It’s one way we test if the corporate neurons are firing in the management system.  Of course, that’s not all there is to performance auditing, and it’s not all about processes and procedures, either.

So what’s my real answer to THAT question? I tell people I try to make a difference, and if they’re really interested, that starts a very different conversation…

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