After gaining years of internal audit experience, associate internal auditors may be promoted to senior internal auditor. Internal audit management may recognize the auditor’s professional growth and want to encourage continued development.
Senior internal auditors are responsible for leading audits across the organization while working with associate internal auditors on various audit projects. Through many years’ experience, senior auditors have had extensive opportunities to hone internal audit-specific skills, such as testing, workpaper execution, and audit report writing.
New senior auditors may not have experience in the area of developing and coaching the individuals on their audit project team. And while senior auditors may have strategies for teaching internal audit practices and processes, they might not possess the skills that help develop a well-rounded associate auditor. Therefore, it is the senior auditor’s responsibility to not only understand what promotes the professional growth of associate auditors, but also the strategies for effectively teaching the skills that ensure success. How the skills are taught often impacts the ability to grasp new internal audit concepts and processes.
Three key communication skills for new senior auditors to master are language selection and usage that encourages learning and growth, demonstrating strong communication skills to strengthen the skills of the team, and facilitating strategic communications through business partnerships. These skills cover the various interactions internal auditors experience daily.
1. Language Selection
A senior auditor’s word selection, tone, and inflection can make a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of communication. One area in particular is providing constructive feedback. Such feedback, while both well-intentioned and important, may not be well-received because of the inflection and tone of voice. Some associates may be able to hear the message through the inflection and tone, but others may focus solely on it, and completely miss the objective of the message.
To assess the associate auditor’s understanding when explaining an internal audit concept, the senior auditor might ask, “Does that make sense?” versus “Are we okay?” or “Are we good?” This makes a difference in determining progress and encouraging discussion. While it may be well-meaning, “Does that make sense?” is phrased in such a way that might not permit feedback (and if it does, is focused on the topic being taught). “Are we okay?” can open dialogue for the associate auditor to ask questions, as well as voice concerns. Using “we” indicates that the learning process involves both the internal audit senior and associate. This phrasing can sometimes encourage a broader conversation, rather than solely confirming a successful transfer of knowledge.
Simple changes in wording can have a huge impact on the team’s morale and skill development, especially because associate auditors may have varying professional backgrounds and different learning styles. Word choice, tone, and inflection can help reinforce the meaning of one’s message and encourages professional and productive discussions.
2. Demonstrating Communication Skills
When a senior auditor thoughtfully considers language, and makes necessary changes in phrasing and tone to best support the team, it is appropriate to then demonstrate his or her communication skills. As senior auditors work with a variety of stakeholders, they should consider their written and oral communications.
Written Communication New associate auditors who are learning the internal audit department culture will undoubtedly copy the communication style of their leaders; therefore, it is critical to reflect upon one’s own written communication and replace bad communication habits with a strong communication style. After all, one cannot hold associate auditors to a high communication standard if senior auditors are not modeling appropriate communication skills, themselves. From time to time, jargon is used in memorandums and emails are sent lacking punctuation, grammar, or spelling. Associate auditors are included in correspondence, so professional language and communication should be used in all interactions. Even if it takes a few extra minutes, senior auditors should proofread written communication.
Oral Communication Exposing associates to various learning experiences is important; however, careful planning by the senior auditor is necessary to set up the individual and team for success. For example, if an associate auditor has never presented in front of audit client management, why have him or her present for the first time at the closing meeting, which may be more sensitive than the opening meeting? The associate may be successful, but chances are, without experience, he or she will flounder. Such unplanned approaches to training decrease team morale, and send a message to the audit client that internal audit is not a supportive and growth-focused department. A planned and intentional approach to communication training sends a message that the senior auditor cares not only about the success of the audit, but the associates, too.
3. Strategic Communication
Strong business partnering relationships are often built in informal ways, whether that be a walk around the office during lunch, a short coffee break, or by dropping by someone’s office. Chances are that at one time or another, a leader within the internal audit department has included the recently promoted senior auditor in such opportunities. By including associates in such interactions, it helps them build their own network and demonstrates the way in which to build their own relationships with leaders throughout the enterprise. This can help improve the image and reputation of the internal audit department within the organization.
Senior auditors also can help facilitate opportunities for communication skill improvement among associate auditors through the presentation of technical skills. Associate auditors may have professional and educational backgrounds in areas outside of the department under review, but possess specialized skills in subjects such as predictive modeling and project management. These skills are not only valuable in their application within the internal audit role, but they are also useful across the enterprise. When appropriate, senior auditors can initiate the conversation among business management about the possibility of a workshop or webinar, for example, and encourage the associate auditor to share his or her expertise with audit clients.
Being promoted from associate internal auditor to senior internal auditor is reason to celebrate one’s professional accomplishments. However, with such promotion comes increased responsibility. And to foster further success, it is necessary to implement the communication skills that will progress one’s own professional development, as well as help improve the skills of emerging talent within the internal audit department.