Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany recently released findings from a study that looked at whether internal auditors are swayed by the attractiveness of their audit subjects. More specifically, the study looked at internal auditors’ susceptibility to “the beauty bias” in fraud-risk judgements.
The study found that experience and motivation “immunize” internal auditors to attractiveness stereotyping and the attractiveness halo effect. The theory of attractiveness stereotyping in psychology stems from studies that have found that Western people are more willing to listen to and believe people who are seen as aesthetically attractive. The halo effect is a type of confirmation bias wherein positive feelings in one area cause ambiguous or neutral traits to be viewed positively. The effect has been studied in relation to attractiveness, as well.
Two things immediately came to mind as I read about this study: I’m not surprised by the findings. Aren’t there more pressing things for researchers to study?
I hope this doesn’t come across as snarky, but I was genuinely disappointed that this would be the subject of academic research. It is good to know the objectivity of the profession is intact, and I suppose it is productive if media coverage of such research gets the attention of our stakeholders. However, we can do much more to establish our credibility with organizational stakeholders by how we do our jobs and how we interact with our clients.
CAEs can show their credibility by running an effective internal audit function, walking the talk, keeping confidences, leading with integrity, and investing the time and energy to build strong relationships with audit committee chairs and key C-suite executives.
Conforming to The IIA’s International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing, including establishing a quality assurance and improvement program and submitting to timely quality assurance reviews, also gives stakeholders clear indications that the internal audit function is constantly striving to improve.
Regular readers of this blog know I have written two books on the profession, Lessons Learned on the Audit Trail and Trusted Advisors: Key Attributes of Outstanding Internal Auditors. A quick check finds 38 references to “credibility” in those two volumes. Not to belabor the point, but it’s more valuable to build credibility with our stakeholders through our actions than to point to a study that concludes internal auditors are more focused on root causes than someone’s root colors.
Perhaps we should take this as a challenge to do a better job of advocating what we do with those we serve. The IIA’s formal strategic plan envisions internal audit professionals as being “universally recognized as indispensable to effective governance, risk management, and control.” These lofty and inspiring words should influence everything we do as practitioners.
The key words for me are “universally recognized as indispensable.” That is a tall order we have yet to attain, but one that I believe can be reached.
An important advocacy tool available to all practitioners through The IIA is the Global Advocacy Platform, a bold statement of internal audit’s value and its vital role in sound risk management and governance. I wrote about the platform in a blog post earlier this year, and I again encourage readers to review its admonitions and share it with their stakeholders.
This post has strayed a bit from the research study on beauty bias, but I’m always happy to promote internal audit advocacy. Practitioners at all levels must understand that dedication to doing the best work possible builds credibility and provides the best opportunity for internal audit to showcase its value to the organization. For internal auditors, beauty should always reside in the truth — not those we audit!
As always, I look forward to your comments.