“We are here to help you!” This phrase is often uttered at the opening meeting of a new internal audit engagement. The words seem so innocent, but in a 2012 blog post, I first explored the challenge for internal auditors to make those words more than a hollow promise. The phrase is often referred to in jest as “the oldest lie in the world.” As the old joke continues, the second oldest lie is management’s response: “We are glad you are here!” Unfortunately, as with many jokes, there is just enough truth in the punchline to make for some discomfort.
The great majority of internal audit professionals are truly collegial in their relationships with clients, and hopefully most of our clients really are glad to see us. But it is always good to take a hard look at how we are viewed and how we can change mistaken perceptions about ourselves in the minds of skeptical clients.
Are we viewed as nitpickers? Maybe we’re not concentrating enough on the biggest risks. Are we viewed as time-wasters? Maybe there’s a way we can organize our work to take up less time of those subject to our reviews. Are we viewed as bearers of bad news? Maybe there’s a way we can add more balance to our reports or put a more positive tone on some of our recommendations. But perhaps there is a more simple explanation: Maybe we just need to concentrate more on transforming negative perceptions in every engagement.
Over the years, I’ve offered simple tips to win over skeptical or adversarial clients. If used on a recurring basis, these practices can sometimes turn even the most difficult client into an internal audit advocate.
Client relationships are delicate and based in large part on trust built up over time. Skeptical clients often have had bad experiences with auditors (maybe even your team). Unfortunately, it is up to us to work tirelessly to erase their negative memories and forge a relationship built on sustainable trust that will serve the organization well into the future. I share these tips to help you in that quest. I welcome your suggestions on winning over the skeptical client.