It is May again, and that means International Internal Audit Awareness Month is upon us. The IIA, along with its North American chapters and more than 100 affiliated institutes around the world will be promoting the value that internal audit brings to fostering stronger internal risk management, internal controls, and corporate governance. Awareness month provides an opportunity for practitioners to plan events, gather proclamations, and do other outreach. There is no doubt this positive and coordinated effort helps to build awareness and appreciation of the profession.
Despite all the energy, I fear that much more needs to be done to build and sustain an enduring awareness of the profession’s value. This takes more than a month each year. It requires a continuous focus by internal auditors – both in raising awareness and in bearing out the message through the quality we deliver. To borrow an old expression, “We must put our audits where our mouth is.”
As I have noted before, I do not believe that internal audit’s stakeholders are profoundly unhappy with our performance. In fact, stakeholder perceptions vary widely – from euphoric to apathy to outright dissatisfaction, in rare instances. I firmly believe that internal audit awareness must begin at home. Each of us should size up any gaps in awareness about our capabilities or in delivery against expectations, and immediately address them. Such actions are not just for the good of the profession, they are crucial to our survival. And once addressed, we must continuously assess and realign against evolving expectations.
Beyond the “home improvement” aspect of an awareness strategy, we must band together as a profession to enhance awareness of internal audit’s value in the broader business sector, within the regulatory communities, and in society at large. That takes a coordinated effort on a global scale, and The IIA is committed leading the charge. Both The IIA’s Global and North American Boards have adopted new strategic plans with advocacy as a cornerstone. Each has committed that, “The IIA will raise the profile of and demand for the profession to ensure it is recognized as an indispensable resource by key stakeholders.”
The IIA will be assisting efforts to raise awareness about internal auditing’s value around the world, but every internal audit practitioner must play a role if we are to be successful. Every time you undertake a risk assessment, launch an engagement, conduct an interview, or publish a final report, you must strive to deliver internal audit as an “indispensable resource.” Otherwise, the words of those extolling internal audit’s value will ring hollow.
It must become second-nature to continuously strive to deliver value in our organizations. How we get there can be as varied as the organizations themselves, but there are some core characteristics of good internal audit that will help you continuously provide value to your organization.
Internal audit must be a team player. While maintaining its independence and objectivity, internal audit must see itself – and be seen – as part of the team. Treating the internal audit department as a business unit that provides services to the rest of the organization helps to create the right mindset for providing value.
Don’t just identify problems, identify solutions. Internal audit practitioners must possess the curiosity, passion, work ethic, creativity, initiative, and flexibility to dig deeper to find root causes of problems and then identify imaginative and inspired solutions.
Build relationships. Reaching out to key senior managers before any audit engagement begins is part of team building. This is crucial, not only for being seen as part of the team, but also for encouraging senior managers to seek out internal audit for help in addressing emerging risks or evaluating a developing situation.
Understand stakeholder needs. Understanding the needs of customers — stakeholders — and having a clearly defined mission for meeting those needs are crucial to knowing how to provide value to your organization.
Finally, I must caution against complacency. For even the most successful internal audit functions can find stakeholder satisfaction eroding if there is not a mindset of continuous improvement. Avoiding complacency requires us to remember who will inevitably judge our value. As I’ve noted before: Ultimately, it is for others to decide whether we are valuable or not. If they say we aren’t, the problem may be that we simply aren’t adding enough value to the operation — or it may be that we haven’t helped our stakeholders to appreciate the value we add. Either way, we must address the problem.
As my old mentor Bill Bishop used to espouse, “I am proud to be an internal auditor.” Each of us should embrace Bill’s refrain. But our pride will shine much brighter when awareness about our profession reaches all corners of the globe. International Internal Audit Awareness Month is an important step in that regard, but I believe a continuous focus on awareness will take us much farther.
I welcome your thoughts.