Internal audit strategies tend to focus on what we will do for the organization, often using verbiage found in the International Professional Practices Framework. Phrases like “independent and objective,” “assurance and consulting activity,” “enhance and protect value,” and “systematic and disciplined approach” populate most departmental vision and mission statements. And the underlying goals and objectives reinforce these positions with phrases related to ensuring controls function correctly, supporting risk management, reporting results, and performing follow-ups. (While researching this column, I found one department whose first stated objective was to achieve the department’s objectives.)
This is all well and good. The concepts and traits contained therein are important to our success and our ability to support the organizations we serve. They help build the solid foundation that allows internal audit functions to do the work they need to do. But we may be missing something important in all this.
Organizations have realized that when they take care of the employees, the employees will take care of the customer. Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines — an organization widely respected for its customer service — put it most succinctly: “You have to treat your employees like customers.” With the realization that happy employees make happy customers, those organizations are putting employees first. And they’re succeeding.
If this is all true — and solid research as well as anecdotal references support the concept of putting employees first — then what does it mean for internal auditors? The underlying question becomes: How does your internal audit department treat its internal auditors?
At this point I suspect many are rising to their feet proclaiming, “Our internal auditors are the No. 1 asset in our department.” But if the auditors are the most important part of the audit department — if they are, indeed, No. 1 — is that allegiance professed in the department’s visions, missions, or objectives?
I recently became aware of an audit department that lists its No. 1 core value as the hiring and continuous training of the best people. That is a strong statement, and it speaks volumes about the department. But it stands out because it is a rare sighting in the world of internal audit.
The only way any audit department succeeds is because of the people who do the work. And even if audit leaders believe the auditors who do the work are their No. 1 priority, that belief is meaningless if they haven’t articulated and exhibited it. Without formal acknowledgment, it’s just hot air flowing into the balloon employees will climb aboard as they leave the department.
Audit leaders should take a closer look at their mission, vision, objectives, and charter. And they should make sure that their No. 1 asset — the people — is a proud and prominent part of what is being valued.