Internal audit’s image, though considerably better than it was years ago, still needs some improvement in the eyes of those we serve. According to recent surveys, stakeholders often see the profession as disconnected from business priorities and mired in outdated practices. Audit functions that maintain such practices and refuse to move forward do a disservice to the organization and damage the profession’s reputation. To change negative perceptions and provide the level of service our organizations require, we need to adjust our mind-set, sharpen our communications, and actively seek to gain the trust and respect of stakeholders.
Changing our mind-set means adopting a focus on working with the business toward the shared purpose of improvement. Auditors more often than not are expected to identify deficiencies and offer critiques, making them seem rigid and adversarial. Adjusting this perception is essentia — and it can be done in surprisingly simple ways. For instance, auditors could dedicate 25 percent of their time on each engagement to identifying best practices, and then share those practices across the organization. They could also supplement their traditional assurance mission by allowing another 25 percent of their time for advisory work. In addition to benefiting the client, this approach can help change how internal audit is perceived and increase the likelihood that the function’s support will be requested in the future.
This shift in audit focus will not succeed, however, without a way to ensure our message reaches the client. Realistically, how much time does top management dedicate to reading the final audit report? Perhaps somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes? We need to create our reports with our clients’ busy schedules and competing demands in mind. We must prioritize information to include in the report, convey that information succinctly, and enhance content presentation with effective use of visuals. There’s no point to working hard for several weeks, interviewing dozens of people, and analyzing hundreds of documents, only to produce an audit report that no one reads.
Finally, to gain stakeholders’ attention and trust, we must demonstrate a strong commitment — and even passion — for our work. Are you truly passionate about your organization’s products and innovation? Are you spending some time every day reading news about your industry, staying abreast of relevant technology, and meeting with your colleagues to understand their priorities and concerns? We need to show enthusiasm for the businesses we serve and think regularly about how we can contribute to the organization’s success.
When each of these factors is in place, the audit team will be seen as an invaluable asset and committed to organizational improvement. Demonstrating that internal audit is focused on making a contribution to the business and genuinely interested in its success will help dispel audit stereotypes and earn management’s trust. We can then move beyond the negative perceptions and concentrate on delivering the value our clients deserve.