How many times have you been asked by your stakeholders:
Internal auditors, by nature of our position and the work we do, should have some level of expertise in all of the processes we touch. If internal audit's main goals are to 1) protect the organization and 2) add value, then we should always strive to learn and work toward understanding the areas we are assessing. But how does internal audit accomplish this? The internal audit team at US Silica in Katy, Texas, focuses on continually gaining trust, understanding its stakeholders, and stepping in to help.
The audit function's expertise would be virtually meaningless without stakeholder confidence and trust in our ability to provide value. Our goal is to create a culture where individuals feel comfortable bringing issues to our team and trust that we will help address them, rather than simply writing up a report of the issue, placing blame, and walking away.
We gain trust by devoting time to educating departments, management, and employees on corporate governance, compliance with the U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, revenue recognition principles, fraud, and all of the areas with which internal audit is involved. When we acquire a company or bring on new team members in any department, our first step is always to educate. Educating allows us to introduce the role of internal audit and foster a strong governance culture before issues arise or we perform audits.
Another part of gaining trust is to provide useful insights. To do that, internal audit first must ask the right questions, do our homework, and involve the correct people in our audits to ensure we have all of the puzzle pieces. Our expertise comes from being able to figure out which pieces are important and how they best fit together. For example, we are currently helping one of our locations streamline and automate several of its approval processes to reduce the amount of emails and manual touch points.
Understand Your Stakeholders
Some people associate networking with simply learning about someone's personal interests or asking about his or her family. That is one part of getting to know one's colleagues. But for internal auditors to be successful, they must be able to turn the conversation to what is important to the organization's goals and use internal audit's experience to help improve upon the process. We listen to the frustrations that teams may have and think about how we can incorporate automation or systems, or how other departments are handling similar processes that might provide useful solutions.
When internal audit schedules planning meetings with teams within the company, we spend more time listening than talking. We may come prepared with a few questions based on our research of their role and department, and then we actively listen to what the client has to say. In creating a risk-based audit plan, the most useful audits come from understanding the goals of the organization, teams, and individuals and then shaping the plan around the risks the organization may face in achieving those goals.
Walk the Talk
This is where the hard work comes in. Internal audit partners with the organization. If there is an emergency or a broken process, we act as part of the team to help fix the problem. In other words, we demonstrate the expertise we've gained by applying it when needed. We do not use internal audit's independence as a scapegoat for not helping.
There are a multitude of ways internal audit can be a team player and maintain its independence. For instance, internal audit may not be able to post journal entries and put together reconciliations, but we can help find ways to automate processes, research issues, and propose better solutions. Internal audit can even go so far as helping create templates and determine the requirements for the proposed automation and then step aside and let the experts take it from there.
Not every audit needs to be a major overhaul — the quick wins matter too. Any support internal audit provides to making the company stronger and faster is going to have an impact. For example, our internal audit team helped achieve a quick win by researching and proposing higher materiality thresholds in lower risk processes to ensure the company is focusing on material transactions and reducing time spent in lower risk areas. We've also helped find long-term solutions such as implementing automation with third-party service providers to reduce manual workload and increase data accuracy.
And walking the talk goes beyond mastering the audits we are performing or processes we help fix to measuring and marketing internal audit's progress. There are countless articles that explain how to build one's brand, and it is just as important to build the internal audit team's brand. Advocating for internal audit will lead to others advocating for the positive change internal audit brings.
Repeat and Evolve
At US Silica, internal auditors strive to constantly improve. We stay current on industry technologies, tools, and techniques. We stay relevant by actively participating in project teams, reviewing our accomplishments and goals with management, and continually refining our internal audit processes to improve our team's approach. And if we can continue to focus on internal audit's core values, then our success will speak for itself in the work we do.