What seems like an eternity ago, I received a book in the mail titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth. It was sent to me by my mentor and friend with a note that said, "You are gritty, and gritty is good." I wasn't sure at first what he meant, but after reading the book I was inclined to agree that grit is a quality I possess.
According to Duckworth, "[If you have] a deep and abiding interest, a ready appetite for constant challenge, an evolved sense of purpose, and a buoyant confidence in your ability to keep going that no adversity could sink," you probably rate high on the grit scale. I like to think this describes me. It may also describe many internal auditors, as these qualities are often necessary to perform our jobs effectively.
Personal and Professional Grit
My capacity for grit was tested a few years ago when I faced a challenge in my personal life. In 2015, I tested positive for the BRAC1 breast cancer gene mutation. After discussions with close family and friends, I underwent multiple preventive surgeries, including a double mastectomy in 2016. While some might consider this measure extreme, an 86% chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime was not something I was willing to accept. Now my risk has been reduced to 10% per general statistics, and 2–5% per my doctors — odds I'm much more comfortable with.
I also discovered the value of grit in my professional life. Early in my career, I took an internal audit position at a large financial services company. I then left the job a few years later for a traditional accounting position, only to return soon afterward to internal auditing upon realizing that's where my true passion lies. I progressed quickly to the role of internal audit director and woke up every day for the next eight years with the same enthusiasm I had at the beginning of my career — and the perseverance to make a difference in the audit profession.
Staying true to my friend and mentor's observation, I recently mustered internal grit once again by resolving to start my own business. Now my work involves practicing, teaching, and training others about internal auditing, including the concept of grit and how it applies exceptionally well to the profession.
Grit in Practice
Duckworth describes those with grit as high achievers who possess qualities such as diligence, persistence, determination, focus, and the ability to overcome obstacles. She also explains in her book that talent, aptitude, skill, and education are not enough.
Grit, as it relates to internal auditing, starts with a passion and desire to make a difference in the organization. It means looking forward to the next engagement or challenge. It means having the courage to point out what others may not want to see.
Great auditors have to combine an understanding of operations, financial processes, and technology with the curiosity to find risky or unusual items. They also must possess the ability to establish relationships and build trust with management. And, of course, auditors must do all this while not always being greeted with open arms by their clients.
How do great auditors accomplish great things? They do it with grit. They audit with passion, working toward longer term, strategic goals that are of value to the organization, with the necessary resolve and follow-through to reach those goals. They do it with perseverance, working with the courage and determination to pursue an engagement or finding, despite obstacles, until their job is complete.
Are You Gritty?
How do practitioners determine whether they have the qualities to be a gritty auditor? First, they should make sure they are in the right place or in the right profession by answering a few questions:
If the answer to each of these questions is "yes," internal auditors should then make sure they tackle their work every day with an eye toward five key factors:
- Achievement. Believe respect is earned and reward and recognition come after achievement. Add value through the systematic identification and mitigation of risk and implementation of solutions that result in significant improvements.
- Focus. Gain the necessary knowledge for each engagement. Risk assess engagements using appropriate knowledge and input. Focus on meeting value-added objectives. Set timetables and manage engagements to timely completion.
- Time/Resources. Allocate time to the high-impact goals, risks, and improvement opportunities within engagements. Apply the latest tools and technology while controlling audit costs; do more with less.
- Effort. Create a culture of commitment. Be committed to every engagement and to supporting the success of the organization. Work hard and smart. Continuously improve yourself and your techniques.
- Reputation. Build a reputation for providing a valuable service and fulfilling promises. Be known for your resolve and agility to overcome obstacles and ensure success. Remain adept and nimble as you audit in an ever-changing world, within evolving organizations, leadership, strategies, technologies, and risks.
Practitioners who perform their work with these factors top of mind can safely say they audit with grit.
The Power of Grit
To quote Duckworth, "Our potential is one thing, what we do with it is quite another." Internal auditors have a tremendous platform to improve effectiveness within an organization, a platform that is sometimes underutilized. It's time to show grit as auditors and spend each day working to our full potential.