“We are here to help you!” This phrase seems so innocent, but at The IIA’s recent International Conference in Boston, I once again heard those six little words referred to as “the biggest lie of the internal audit profession.” As the old joke continues, the second biggest lie is management’s response: “We are glad you are here!”
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 maybe it’s time to take a hard look at how we are viewed and how we can change mistaken perceptions about internal auditors in the minds of skeptical clients. Are we viewed as nit-pickers? 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 audit work. 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.
Following are five simple tips that I have used to win over skeptical or adversarial audit clients. If practiced on a recurring basis, these practices can sometimes even turn the most difficult client into an internal audit advocate.
Client relationships are very delicate and based in large part on trust built up over the span of time. Skeptical clients often have had bad experiences with auditors in a past life. Unfortunately, it is up to us to work tirelessly to erase their memories of bad encounters with internal auditors in the past and build a relationship built on sustainable trust in the future. I share these tips to help you in that quest. I welcome your suggestions on winning over the skeptical client.