Service-oriented auditing is not a new concept. For many years internal audit leaders have built client-focused practices into their approach, such as agreeing well in advance on convenient times for engagements, clearly communicating the scope of work to be completed, and confirming engagement details in writing with management. Essentially, they seek to work with clients as business partners rather than using a box-ticking, compliance-oriented approach. And while these are constructive practices that help build relationships, they fall well short of the level of service to which we should all aspire. To best serve the organization, we need to embed a culture of service in the audit function — where management is kept continuously informed and expectations are regularly exceeded.
A culture of service permeates the entire audit function, not just its leadership. The audit team collectively should understand the importance of client relationships and their value to the audit process. Accordingly, every member of the audit function should help ensure that anyone who interacts with internal audit is well-informed of relevant audit objectives, what to expect from engagements, and timelines for deliverables. These efforts will help develop and solidify client relationships in day-to-day interactions across all levels of the department.
Communication plays a key role in providing superior service — it should be both frequent and ongoing. As common practice, auditors share the audit announcement, written scope of work, and audit report. But there is a lot more to offer during planning, fieldwork, and reporting — and auditors should not limit their deliverables to only these few documents. Additional written communication can include minutes from meetings with management, status updates on engagement progress, and preliminary observations identified.
More frequent verbal communication can also be valuable, such as explaining audit objectives for internal control testing and clarifying document requests. Although these communications may not be necessary, they can help maintain open dialogue with clients and enable them to better understand the audit process. And by keeping clients informed, internal auditors are more likely to be seen as professional service providers rather than overseers assigned to judge people, process, and performance. The effort not only facilitates better relationships but can also dramatically improve the audit function’s image in the organization.
Famed NFL quarterback Roger Staubach said, “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” In other words, the pack begins to dwindle when extra effort is required. For internal auditors, that extra effort can help build strong relationships and distinguish internal audit as a trusted advisor. Embedding a culture of service in the audit function doesn’t have to involve additional costs, delays, or compromises — but going the extra mile will always bring the best possible results.