While many organizations were monitoring the spread of COVID-19 from China to the U.S., executive leadership at The IIA was already taking action. They were meeting regularly to discuss several upcoming events scheduled in March within a span of three weeks, including the General Audit Management (GAM) conference in Las Vegas, Global Assembly in London, and Leadership Academy in Orlando.
"We started monitoring COVID-19 early on because of our certifications business in China," said Bill Michalisin, The IIA's chief operating officer. "Our testing centers there started shutting down in early February, so we took note and began mobilizing to explore alternatives." With attendees from more than 50 countries planning to attend GAM, IIA leadership had to take a closer look at the safety of IIA staff and attendees.
Once cases of COVID-19 emerged in Washington State and California, events unfolded quickly and the decision was made to turn the in-person GAM conference into a virtual event, livestreamed from the conference hotel. But even as IIA staff arrived in Las Vegas, they were notified that the hotel was closing down due to the pandemic, and the three-day event would now be a one-day event.
"When times get tough, that's when your people rise to their best," Michalisin shared. "We focused on delivering the program and getting our staff and members back home safely." IIA staff did not return to the office, however, as IIA President and CEO Richard Chambers had shut down Headquarters and instructed employees to work from home.
As this was happening, Chief Risk Officer Greg Jaynes was conducting a risk assessment to ensure employees had the resources to work from home. "We had to develop guidance for people who had never used the VPN to log in to the office," he explained. "People were taking on roles that they never had before to get people up and running."
As decisions were being made, Lynn Moehl, The Institute's chief audit executive, was taking on a monitoring and advisory role and looking across the organization to make sure it was a cross-functional effort. In the highly charged situation, she told webinar attendees, she had to ask, "Are we making decisions based on the best set of information we have? How do we communicate about GAM, issue refunds, and switch people from in-person to virtual attendees?"
An event like COVID-19 can be a significant change driver for organizations. According to Michalisin, The IIA has taken a step back to look at what its members need and want and asked, "How can we help them survive and thrive?" The IIA immediately began developing daily news items in the COVID-19 Newswire, pulling together content related to the pandemic in the COVID-19 Resource Exchange, and looking at how to evolve training and certifications so members can still access the resources they need virtually to help them navigate the crisis now and be better positioned to help their organizations do the same in the long term. The Audit Executive Center began hosting roundtable discussions so CAEs could connect on issues and The IIA could share what CAEs are doing in their organizations with the broader membership.
"I think it's going to change the way we do business going forward," Jaynes said. "Whether it's flexibility, taking on different roles, reprioritizing goals for the year or deferring some, it's forced us to look at our operations differently."
This scenario has allowed The IIA to think differently about how it operates and apply a more entrepreneurial spirit while identifying opportunity to better serve our members and the profession, Michalisin told attendees.
Staying Connected With Members
Members are at the core of The IIA's business so The Institute continues to reach out to CAEs and members to help them navigate the crisis, Michalisin said. Internal auditors still have to maintain their primary roles within their organizations and now they're trying to figure out how to do that in the shadow of a global pandemic. They're looking for guidance on how to complete a virtual quality assessment, or continue their professional development, or revamp a risk assessment, and The IIA is trying to meet all those needs, he explained.
"We've continued to have great engagement with our members and we're learning as they're learning," Michalisin shared.
Opportunity for the Profession
COVID-19 has provided a huge opportunity for internal audit to step up, and stakeholders may be taking note of that for the first time. As Jaynes said, "Internal auditors have been exposed to all the nuts and bolts of a business. Who else can bring that perspective and information to the table very quickly?"
Moehl added that it has highlighted the need for internal auditors to be viewed as a critical resource. "It's an opportunity for your function to demonstrate the value it can bring the organization —being agile and getting things done in a different way." As the crisis began to develop, Moehl put aside her audit plan and asked where she could be of help.
This pandemic won't be the last, but it has taught organizations that they can never be fully be prepared, said Michalisin. Testing business continuity plans, learning to be flexible, and not losing sight of emerging risks can at least give them a head start.
"Learn from what you're dealing with every single day and commit to the fact that whatever the new normal will be will move your organization forward," Michalisin advised. "If we go back to where we were before COVID-19, then we haven't applied that learning." Part of that is staying focused on your people and communication.
"As an internal auditor, continue building relationships and your brand within the company," Moehl said. "Relationships with all levels of staff are key to being plugged into risk."
And integrating risks into decision-making, planning, and forecasting, said Jayne, is where we all can do a better job.
View the full webinar: Roundtable With IIA Executives — Business Continuity at the Speed of COVID-19 Risk.