Internal auditors are ethical — right? After all, we think of ourselves as the “beacon of ethical light” in every organization. If you can’t trust the internal auditor, who can you trust? Yet, at the end of the day, we are also human. We are subject to the same pressures (culturally, politically, and organizationally) as everyone else in the enterprise. So, maybe we are vulnerable after all.
But can we afford the luxury? I think not.
In the past few months, I have become increasingly troubled by isolated instances when the “ethical compasses” of internal auditors appeared to fail — rather spectacularly. In some instances, they were accused of concealing audit results from the audit committee at the behest of senior management. In other instances, they took it upon themselves to spare their organization embarrassment, and withheld negative audit results fearing bad publicity. In the end, each of the cases ended as badly for the internal auditors as they did for management. Why? Because “the cover-up is often worse than the crime”!
After almost 37 years in the profession, I have encountered more than a few professional ethical dilemmas. They typically involved whether to “call it like it was” despite the potential personal and professional consequences. Fortunately, I was always a little too naïve, foolish, or (maybe even) daring to care. I did what I needed to do. But, I could easily see how others would take a different path. Unfortunately, when we do take the easier path, we sacrifice not only our own professionalism, but we chip away at the reputation of our profession as well. I often observe that “I would rather no one know what internal auditors do than to draw conclusions from those who do it poorly.”
A blog is too short to explore all of the intricacies of every ethical dilemma we face. However, I have identified several dilemmas that commonly arise for the internal auditors. As I am sure you will agree, these dilemmas often force us to face the areas of grey rather than the pure black and white world in which we prefer to live. I would suggest you answer each of these questions as though you were facing a personal ethical dilemma:
My guess is that you were easily able to answer these questions in your mind. Of course you would do the right thing. Yet, too often I have seen those faced with the real dilemmas cited above whose “moral compass” failed them. Don’t let that happen to you.