Throughout my career, there have been times when I joined a new internal audit function and it quickly became apparent that the chief audit executive (CAE) operated in a very different way than what I was accustomed to. In some cases, the CAE had a different style or preference for communicating with clients. In other cases, the CAE was a stickler on technical issues such as how findings should be communicated, how working papers should be assembled, or which words to ban from audit reports. In most instances, I was simply able to adapt to the CAE’s preferred style or philosophy. After all, the CAE was the boss, and I was obliged to take direction from him or her. (Still, I tried to work subtly to influence his way of thinking or preference on technical issues — never pushing too hard, lest I undermine the relationship and progress I was making.)
I suspect that all of us, at one time or another, will encounter a similar experience. Whether you’re the CAE or the staff auditor, in most cases you’re likely able to navigate the situation without the relationship becoming damaged or broken. But what happens when it does? What happens when a CAE decides that an otherwise talented internal auditor just doesn’t fit into his or her organization? Or when the relationship gets so bad that the CAE won’t even speak to the staff auditor?
Though I’ve been fortunate to never experience this first-hand, I’ve led many external quality assessments where I’ve witnessed this “broken relationship” scenario and the devastating effects it has on the organization. I’ve seen CAEs lose confidence in a member of their staff and otherwise capable internal auditors become marginalized, pushed into a cubicle, and assigned menial projects.
In some cases, this toxic environment persists for years, ending only when one party departs the organization. Meanwhile, the situation is not healthy for the internal auditor, the CAE, and certainly not for the internal audit function.
The good news, however, is that with a commitment by both parties, it can be turned around.
For a CAE who finds himself or herself in the situation described above, I suggest five steps to “rehabilitating” the relationship with your staff member and returning that person to the productive fold:
For the internal auditor on the other side of the broken relationship, I offer this advice:
Broken relationships in internal audit departments are not uncommon. If you are caught up in one, resolve to make 2014 the year in which you repair the damage and put the past behind you.
As always, I’d like to hear your stories and additional thoughts on this topic.