​Invest in Yourself


New IIA Global Chairman of the Board Larry Harrington says internal auditors have the opportunity to create positive change in a world that is evolving at lightning speed. 

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C​EOs, nonexecutive directors, and business managers understand that keeping abreast of the powerful forces shaping the world is critical. They need people who have the ability to anticipate the impact of new technologies and the effects of globalization and geopolitical change on their strategies, operations, and customers. They need people who can a​​ct​ as change agents in their organizations, and people who can help businesses thrive — not just survive — in this fast-paced environment. 

Despite the need for organizational transformation, most organizations have not increased their investment in learning to make these changes possible. Worse yet, many individuals have not stepped into this void and made their own investment in learning to become the catalysts of change. Organizations need such catalysts because not anticipating and acting on constantly developing and emerging risks can be catastrophic. How many more examples like Blackberry do we need to be convinced?

The good news is internal auditors can play a pivotal role in meeting these challenges and transforming their organizations. Auditors cut across all of the business’ operations. They look at processes end-to-end, understand what is happening in the different regions and business groups, and provide unique insight to the board and executive team to help anticipate risk and its primary, secondary, and tertiary effects. Looking forward at how these influences impact and shape corporate strategies, communicating the internal audit perspective to the board, and having the resources and skills to help manage the organization’s response to such risk is of essential value. Understood from this perspective, internal audit is an engine for innovation and business improvement.

But we are only as good as people think our profession is, thus we must work both on our competencies and our brand. That is why the theme for my year as global chairman of the board is “Invest in Yourself.” 

An Investment in You

Internal auditors can invest in themselves through:

  • Deeper understanding of, and conformance with, the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. 
  • Learning and development opportunities.
  • Certification and qualification.
  • Research and educational products.
  • Networking and relationship building at conferences.
  • Advocating and communicating the value of the internal audit profession.
  • Volunteering in local chapters, institutes, and committees.
  • Contributing to academic and educational programs through donations.

Work on Your Brand

In my experience, people achieve the most if they think of themselves as a brand and invest in improving and promoting that brand. This perspective can help them understand how to develop and project the right executive image, focus on the competencies they need, and seek out and participate in the training, education, and peer networks to support their progress. Internal auditors must master the skills that will make them indispensable, and whether their organizations provide them with the resources or the time to do so, they must be willing to invest their own time and money to achieve that goal (see “My Personal Brand,” below). 

Yet studies show auditors do not always step up to the plate. In The IIA Research Foundation’s recent Common Body of Knowledge (CBOK) global survey of the profession, this is evident in the fact that too many audit departments do not consult with stakeholders in audit planning, execution, and evaluation. Too few link their auditing to the business’ strategic objectives. And many fail to audit those areas — such as cyberrisk and social media — at the top of the corporate worry list. These failings erode internal audit’s credibility and damage the profession’s brand. Auditors must develop or cosource skills to audit those high-risk areas with authority.

Take the Initiative 

Some departments may not have the status within their organizations to operate at the highest level. Others may lack the resources and skills to meet the increasing demands of regulatory compliance in addition to anticipating the shifting risks emerging from the technological landscape. But CAEs must have the courage to discuss with management and the board what executive support and financial resources they need to address critical risks. While these conversations may be difficult, they are crucial for organizations to understand how well internal audit is equipped to fulfill its mission and its potential.

Unfortunately, organizations are struggling to fill high-paying internal audit posts because they cannot find people with the right skills and attitude. In part, this situation has come about because too many internal audit departments underinvest in the skills and proficiencies that can take their staff to the next level. Globally, six in 10 audit departments’ training and development programs are poorly implemented. The CBOK survey shows deficiencies in training auditors to understand their industry sectors, improve their leadership and communication skills, and, in some cases, learn basic audit techniques. 

In addition, most individual auditors have not increased their personal investments in learning, as CBOK shows most internal auditors only invest 40 or fewer hours in training — the same as 10 years ago. Has the pace at which the world is changing really not altered since then? Can anyone today remain indispensable to their organizations, their profession, or themselves with just 40 hours of training a year?

My Personal Brand 

"​Invest in Yourself” dates back to around 1990 when I became CAE at the insurance company, Aetna. I started collaborating with people in human resources, sales, and other areas outside of internal audit and listening to the challenges they faced within their businesses. It struck me that to really help the people I was auditing, I would need to learn much more about these functions. Gaining this knowledge also would help me build my personal brand and that of my team.

At that time, I came across a book by the motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within. I read the book and then began investing my own money to take several of Robbins’ programs. The book aligned with my thinking about seeing myself as a brand and building personal strategic, financial, and business plans based on my aspirations. What I really liked about Robbins’ approach was that he focused not just on what I might want to become, but also on how to get me out of my comfort zone. 

I later organized a three-day program with Robbins’ company for my 140-person internal audit team at Aetna. On the last day, the theme from the movie Rocky blasted from the auditorium’s sound system as the team gathered in circles to karate chop their way through single wooden boards. The tension built as first one, and then another chopped their way to success. When it was my turn, the motivator said that because I was the leader, I had to smash through two boards, rather than a single board. If you have the right music playing in your head, you can achieve anything, the coach told me. 

I was scared of failure but, at the same time, inspired by the coach’s words of encouragement. I successfully smashed the boards. What I took away from the experience was that coaches can help you have truly breakthrough thinking if you welcome them, listen to what they say, and execute. 

Shortly after, the CEO of Aetna requested I transfer to the role of vice president of Human Resources to transform the function, making it leaner and more efficient. After that assignment, I was asked to take on another troubleshooting role in the business’ Health Operations department. I then returned to my passion of internal auditing, leveraging my Aetna experiences to a successful internal audit leadership role at Raytheon. 

I was proud to be able to use my internal audit skills to transform these businesses. Thinking outside the box, leaning outside the organization, and working with people to create positive change for both them personally and for the business came directly out of the personal investment I’d made in my career as an internal auditor and has been critical to my success since returning to internal audit.​

I believe the answer is “no,” which is why my theme of “invest in yourself” is so important today. Internal auditors who are lifelong learners, who build the right personal and professional brand, can become indispensable to their organizations and enjoy a career in which they can make a real difference. To help support this approach, The IIA is strengthening its suite of tools and peer-group networks so that it can better fulfill its role as the primary resource for helping internal auditors achieve their career ambitions and for helping their organizations flourish (see “Leveraging the Profession Globally,​” bottom). As well as taking full advantage of these tools, internal auditors also will need to take the initiative to seek out career coaching and read business books on leadership and motivation. Internal auditors who embark down this path will be energized by the results.

Proof of Concept

Eleven years ago, the global defense and security company Raytheon hired me to insource a previously outsourced audit department. The first thing I did was establish a simple vision for internal audit: Create positive change with a sense of urgency. Internal audit could clearly communicate this vision to every prospective team member and to everyone in the business; it became a benchmark for our success. 

The process of building a positive brand with the right skills, knowledge, and credibility to help management and the board deal with the complex global risks our industry and business faced started with investment in the internal audit department. We strove to create an environment where every internal auditor felt recognized, rewarded, and challenged. We gave team members the support to stretch themselves and succeed. We ensured that staff learned communication skills, went to leadership programs, interacted with senior management at an early stage in their careers, and traveled to the company’s overseas operations. We set up quarterly reward and recognition systems. We increased our investment in training, too. We required everyone to pass the CIA exam, and when they succeeded, they received an immediate pay increase. We provide our auditors with about 200 hours of annual training and ask them to match that with their own time. We only hired team members who understood the personal commitment to creating positive change with a sense of urgency. The proof of concept is reflected in the number of audits requested by customers, the customer feedback on the quality of audit work, and the success in people moving from internal audit to the business and vice versa.

We also encourage internal auditors to participate in companywide initiatives, such as the Diversity and Inclusion program. People in the broader business meet our team members as regular employees first, auditors second. This has helped break down the negative misconceptions those outside the profession can have about auditors. It also has educated our auditors about the challenges other parts of the business face, and has given them leadership and training opportunities outside of their internal audit work. These activities have helped create the impression in the business that internal audit is the best place in the organization to work. There is a waiting list of internal candidates who want to join internal audit, and many of our staff are promoted to posts elsewhere in the business. 

Make a Difference

The ability of Raytheon’s internal audit team to meet today’s challenges is based on the personal investment and commitment each team member has made in his or her own career. During my year as chair, I ask every internal auditor to make a commitment to improve those aspects of their skills, competencies, or qualifications where they think they can make the most difference to themselves and their organizations. I ask team leaders to improve the environment and opportunities for their internal audit staff. I ask every internal auditor to take action by investing in their profession and The IIA’s ongoing, global efforts to advance internal audit’s value. And I ask people to write to me and tell me about their best efforts and successes. By each of us working hard to improve our personal brands, we can help transform the profession.

Leveragin​​g the Profession Globally

While The IIA has been successful in advocating the internal audit message to government, regulators, businesses, and many other stakeholders, The Institute wants to increase its focus on its 180,000 global members. Currently, approximately 20 percent of the membership actively engages with its training, networking, and career-building initiatives. We want to persuade this group to invest more in itself, and we want to reach the 80 percent who are less active, or not participating at all.

We can think about the profession, about raising the image and brand of internal audit, but it has to be personal. We need to motivate, engage, and inspire all of The IIA’s members to think positively about their role, what they provide to their organizations, and about themselves as auditors. The process of thinking about how to reach out in this direction started at an IIA Global Council meeting in China in April. Now, we need IIA leaders in each of the North American chapters and institutes around the globe — about 267 groups — to brainstorm and create strategies for best reaching the 80 percent and to freely share those ideas that are successful.

One strand of this strategy is to roll out The IIA’s Career Map around the globe. The program allows auditors to self-assess their competencies against a set created by The IIA at their level, and create a gap plan and a learning plan to help them get to the next level. Another is to increase the variety of support available. For example, The IIA has created a new Risk Exchange forum. The Institute is going to be an even greater resource for internal auditors looking to leverage each other.

Further, The IIA is working to enable institutes to work together more efficiently (the same with chapters). At present, several institutes may be working on the same problem at the same time around the globe, but they do not always collaborate. The IIA is planning to enhance its virtual tools in this area so that institutes can work together to produce a common solution to issues that can then be customized to suit local regulatory or cultural conditions. We are trying to leverage the profession globally in terms of best practice, without saying one size fits all. We want to cut out duplication, but also produce better solutions to serve members by bringing together the best minds from around the world to address these problems.​

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