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​Obsolete Thinking

Many internal auditors are still clinging to outmoded, gotcha-style auditing.

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​I met an auditor who preferred the term auditee. She asked me, “Why does everyone keep calling them customers?” I explained that the term better represented the relationships we strive to build — using the word customer helps emphasize that we work together to build stronger operations and organizations. I also pointed out that client was actually the preferred descriptor, though she was unwilling to accept it. She then said, “We are doing an audit of their operations; we are the auditors and they are the auditees.”

I met two auditors who thought their job was to find errors and mistakes. They explained that the purpose of their audits was to find what the client was doing wrong. I tried to clarify: “You don’t literally write that as the purpose in the audit report, do you?” They insisted that they did.

I met an auditor who did not want to do anything beyond compliance work. He failed to see how areas such as risk identification and process improvement fell within internal audit’s purview. He said that we helped the organization best by ensuring compliance with laws, regulations, and procedures, and that any other activities were a waste of time.

I met an auditor who did not want to talk to people. He believed that the ability to review documentation online, share all necessary documents electronically, and use email for communication meant we did not need to waste our time on person-to-person interaction.

Of course, most of my encounters with practitioners have not been nearly this bad. I have met auditors who keep current with internal audit trends and practices; who attend conferences, seminars, meetings, and online training; who see how internal audit has grown; and who recognize the profession’s increasing potential. But I have also met auditors who still think in terms of auditees, who still have the “gotcha” mentality, who still think we work crouched over desks wearing green eyeshades while scribbling out reports with quill and papyrus, and who still bayonet the wounded.

Meeting these individuals reminds me that some practitioners are still living in the past. Accordingly, we need to be cautious when making assumptions about other auditors and the effect they may have had on our profession. We also need to talk constantly about the value we can provide because we never know what messages were delivered in the past.  

I once heard someone say that, when you see a group of people who claim to be pushing a train forward, make sure the train isn’t just dragging them along. The professionals around you are either driving the train or being dragged along by it. Make sure you know which is which and how these individuals may be affecting the relationships you have within the department and within the organization. 

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