Within every profession, there are certain characteristics, traits, and tasks that mark great professionals. Internal auditing is no different. Professionals can make the transition from good to great by following these 5 steps.
Experience the products/services
A few years ago, Domino’s pizza did something daring. Well, not really. They asked customers what they really thought about the pizza. That sparked a series of commercials where customers bashed the pizza and management watched in shock. I do not understand the lack of awareness. I’m betting there was no doubt at least one employee who frequently mentioned every item identified in the videos. It is more likely that no one listened to those employees. Or the employees were labeled as troublemaker or people who “rocked the boat”.
I’ve never understood working for an organization without experiencing the product/service offering where possible. When I worked in retail, I consumed the products my employer manufactured and distributed. At one point, there were some issues with the freshness of the produce. It actually happened for years. Several employees mentioned it. They were labeled. However, years later there was a global campaign touting the improvement to those items. While in banking, I established accounts at the banks where I was employed. Now that I’m in higher education, I’ve taken several “for credit” courses as well as continuing education classes. I’ve eaten in the cafeteria, used the workout center, etc. These experiences provided me some comfort surrounding the controls in some areas and made me concerned about others. I would encourage every auditor to experience their employer’s product/services offering. This will make you a better auditor.
Learn the business
The more you know about your chosen industry, the better you serve your clients. This is a fact. Yet, some internal auditors stay pigeonholed in their comfort zone and do not attempt to learn something new. Or some attend training that is specifically centered around auditing. While this is important, industry specific training is also very valuable. I’m wondering, how many of us have actually attended training with our clients (or at least attended training that our clients would attend). Most auditors are lifelong learners and can easily navigate between industries. “Learning a new business” is something we are inherently good at probably because we constantly have to “learn” new processes while performing audit engagements. Therefore, it is essential that we learn as much as we can about the business environment within which we operate.
Speak the Truth
When coordinating with internal audit clients, always tell them what they need to hear versus what they want to hear. For some, this is very difficult. Especially when what management needs to hear conflicts with what they want to hear. However, I believe honesty and integrity always wins in the end (even if the journey to get there is painful).
Many years ago, I remember an area that needed to be in compliance with the new Gramm Leach Bliley Act. Unfortunately, they were not in compliance. We worked with the unit to educate them on the act and even found training courses. They were scheduled to take these courses within the year.
During the exit meeting, we discussed the fact that the unit was not in compliance with the act. It was not direct management’s first time hearing it. The Executive Vice President was in attendance. Now this individual had a busy schedule and did not want to meet with us prior to the exit, so this item may have been a surprise to him (that actually goes against my rule of no surprises, however, it is difficult to not surprise someone who refuses to meet with you). He called me a liar. I informed him that I was not a liar and that he may be in denial. I further told him that we actually helped his unit find training that will bring them in compliance. He pressed on. I presented the facts and politely stopped speaking. You see, the truth has a way of revealing what a lie conceals. He eventually calmed down and listened. Shortly after the meeting, I received an apology and an acknowledgement of the facts. I must say that I was shocked. If something similar happens to you, do not expect an apology. This is very rare. However, do use truth and honestly as your career compass to guide you where you should be.
Connect with Others
Great auditors build a great professional network. You’ve seen them. They may not know everything, but they can find the answer to almost anything. These auditors have a network of external contacts (i.e. other auditors, industry experts, etc) and great company contacts. In some situations you find someone who has both great external and internal connections. These are the individuals who understand the concept of shared knowledge and typically can be seen giving just as much as receiving. Their network is valuable. It is important to cultivate it so that it can grow.
Question Without Challenging (offending)
I’ve said it before, observation and inquiry is one of the biggest tools in an auditors tool kit. This means that auditors must ask a lot of questions. Questions typically make people uncomfortable. Effectively asking questions requires style, tact and skill. Unfortunately, we are wired to ask ineffectively. Successful questioning strategies require daily practice. Furthermore, because people are different, success with one person does not mean success with everyone. To question without challenging requires auditors to truly hear and listen to clients. Using phrases like, “Can you help me understand the process for…”, “Tell me more about…”, “What is your role in…” can help tremendously. Removing the word “You” from questioning is even better. For example, you do not want to say “Why didn’t You process this transaction”. A better question is “Help me understand why this transaction was not included in the batch”. Again, we all get it wrong. It is something we must conscientiously work at every day. But learning how to question without challenging is one of the 5 things great internal auditors do!
What are some great things you’ve noticed internal auditors do?
Photo credit Paul Stevenson