When I set out to write my book Trusted Advisors: Key Attributes of Outstanding Internal Auditors, I was determined to identify those skills and characteristics that separated good internal auditors from great ones. To ensure I wasn’t overly influenced by my own biases, I surveyed more than 200 chief audit executives from around the world. They spoke loud and clear about the skills they believe it takes to excel in our profession and to win and sustain trust from those we serve.
At the top of the list were attributes we would expect: ethical resilience, dynamic communicators, critical thinkers, relationship builders and business acumen. But there was one leading attribute that, I believe, is often overlooked: trusted advisors are “results-focused.”
Looking back, I don’t know why I was surprised. Outstanding internal auditors are motivated by analyzing data, leveraging technology and providing actionable advice, all while remaining scrupulously ethical, independent and objective. But there is no way to accomplish all that without an unyielding focus on results and an unwillingness to let go of a project or problem until we know that the desired results have been fully achieved. Frankly, I think results orientation must be one of our superpowers.
During my career, I have had countless individuals on my teams who focused tirelessly on the outcomes from their audit assignments. For them, a good result wasn’t simply a matter of finishing an audit and writing the report. Obviously, those two tasks are important to doing the job, but internal auditors who are truly results-focused care about much more:
Outstanding internal auditors are more obsessed about outcomes than outputs. They understand that the outcome from a report yields more value than the length of the report itself or the number of findings and recommendations cited in the report. Outstanding internal auditors feel their mission is not truly complete until management embraces the audit results and implements necessary changes or transformation that will improve operations. I believe this focus on results among outstanding internal auditors is a key ingredient in becoming a trusted advisor. Realizing results depends on management’s trust in the individual’s work quality and insights.
If being results-focused is a primary trait of an outstanding internal auditor, what are the sub-traits that enable success? CAEs who were interviewed for the book frequently assigned sub-traits such as discipline and drive to results orientation. Perhaps more than any other attribute examined in Trusted Advisors, a dedication to results was shown to be dependent on a mastery of a variety of sub-characteristics. Out of the survey emerged a list of sub-traits that undergird the attribute of being results-focused. Among them:
Results-focused internal auditors have a keen ability to adapt to stakeholder expectations. After all, they don’t achieve results if they give their stakeholders something they don’t want – or fail to give them what they do want. They know that trust is built and sustained through consistent excellence. They focus their time and effort on what matters and then constantly deliver.
A focus on results is recognition of the importance of the end game. However, good outcomes are possible only when they are based on good information. Sometimes, the right information is easy to find, but more often it requires critical thinking, intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness. Check out my book to learn more about each of these and other skills.
I welcome your thoughts on this topic, and what being results-focused means for internal auditor success. Share your comments on LinkedIn or X (formerly known as Twitter) or drop an email to me at email@example.com.