Ask any internal auditor how his or her day or week is going, and responses will almost certainly include, “I’m so busy,” “I wish I had more time,” or “There aren’t enough hours in the day.”
The combination of shrinking workforces, greater stakeholder expectations, and the productivity and concentration challenges associated with multitasking leave many internal auditors wishing there were more hours in a day. Because time is a fixed asset, internal auditors need to find ways to maximize it.
One approach is to delegate activities. For internal auditors who are new to a senior position or supervisory role, delegation is especially important.
Unfortunately, internal auditors offer some common excuses for not delegating activities, such as, “It will take less time if I do it myself,” “No one can do it as well as I can,” and “No one else has the time either.” These excuses keep auditors from benefiting from one of the best time-management tools. And even though it requires a lot of up-front effort on the part of the delegator, when approached correctly delegation can allow for the growth of everyone involved in the process. Involving others can help develop their skills and abilities, so the next time a similar project arises, tasks can be delegated with confidence.
To determine if a task should be delegated, there are four key questions auditors should ask:
- Can someone else do the task or is it critical for me to complete it?
- Will it provide someone else the opportunity to grow and develop?
- Will this or a similar type of task recur in the future?
- Do I have enough time to delegate the task effectively (train, answer questions, check progress, and rework, if necessary)?
If the answer to two or more of these questions is “yes,” it is worth delegating the task using several steps.
Define the Task
It is important to clearly define the activity to be performed, including specific limitations, time frames for completing the activity, situations that require additional clarification (e.g., unusual circumstances that would require further discussion and direction), as well as a high-level picture of what “complete” looks like. Any specific formatting, style, or other such criteria to be adhered to should be identified at this time. Too often, internal auditors go into delegation without giving clear thought to the full scope of the activity and steps to be performed, decreasing the probability that the delegation will be successful.
Identify the Necessary Skills
When delegating, it is critical to understand the skills necessary to complete the task and determine who within the team exhibits those attributes. If a task is delegated to the wrong person, it is unlikely the task will be performed adequately and within the expected time frame. Further, the likelihood that similar activities will be delegated in the future also decreases. With that in mind, auditors should consider who may be best positioned to complete the activity within the established time frames and expectations.
Clear expectations are not always established and shared with the delegate about the specific tasks to be performed. Common failures in communicating expectations may include:
- Not providing the reason the task must be performed.
- Providing direction that is too high level or vague.
- Providing guidance that excludes pertinent information, such as clearly defining the task to be completed and the time line to complete the activity.
- Not communicating the intended audience of the activity/deliverable.
- Not providing relevant background information.
- Not discussing in advance specific formatting, style, or other such criteria.
While it is important to clearly define expectations, it is also important to keep in mind the difference between personal preferences and mandatory business guidelines. For example, if there are no specific criteria for the formatting of a written deliverable, the work does not necessarily need to be redone if it comes back formatted differently than anticipated.
Ensure a Shared Understanding
In addition to communicating expectations for the task to be performed, it is important to ensure that the delegator and the delegate have a mutual understanding of that task. The person who will be performing the task should be encouraged to ask any clarifying questions necessary to better understand the activity, time lines, and any other requirements. Further, the lack of questions should not lead the delegator to presume that the person who will be performing the task has a clear understanding of what is being asked of him or her. To increase the odds of success, after providing an overview of the activity to be performed, the delegator should consider having the delegate repeat back a summary of the activity to provide visibility into any areas in which the expectations may be unclear. This is also a good opportunity to provide examples of any unusual situations that may be encountered during which the delegate should come back to seek additional guidance. Face-to-face meetings are better suited than email to ensure there is a common understanding; such meetings allow the delegator to read the body language and facial expressions of the delegate to help identify any areas that may be unclear.
For all delegated activities, particularly those that may span multiple weeks or months, it is important to set regular checkpoints with the person who will be responsible for completing the task. These checkpoints can help ensure that the task is on schedule. In addition, checkpoints allow the opportunity for the delegate to ask any clarifying questions that may have arisen through the course of completing the activity. They also enable the delegator to confirm the task is being performed correctly, which is better to identify early in the process rather than at the last minute. Finally, checkpoints allow the opportunity to share any new expectations that have arisen over the course of the activity or re-establish existing expectations with the delegate.
Opportunity for Improvement
For the internal audit activity to best meet the needs of its stakeholders, it is important that all work throughout the department is being performed at the most appropriate level. While delegation may sometimes be a struggle, and it may push both the delegator and delegate out of their comfort zones, it can give a fresh set of eyes to an activity that has traditionally been performed by one person or one role. This not only maximizes internal audit’s limited time, but new insights can create opportunity for improvement all around.