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​Independence: A Tool, Not a Shield

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​The true value of independence, and ultimately the degree of true objectivity it allows to flourish, is in the unique perspective internal auditors can wield. Because we are not part of "making the widgets," internal auditors can provide valuable insights that could easily be missed by those who own the process and are often too deep in the weeds to see a big enough picture or to see broader or longer-term impacts of the decisions they are making.

Yet, over the years, I've heard a lot of internal auditors express concern about providing advisory or consulting services. "It impairs my independence," they say.

I say it absolutely does not. We have a responsibility to provide our organizations with the best information available to enable them to make informed decisions.

We're not taking over making the widgets or making the decisions on how to make the widgets. We're helping them make the widgets better by providing the information, tools, and insights that can only come from an independent internal audit function.

Independence, defined in The IIA's International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF) as "the freedom from conditions that threaten the ability of the internal audit activity to carry out internal audit responsibilities in an unbiased manner," is fundamental. But when misconstrued, it can sometimes keep us from doing our best work.

The IIA's Definition of Internal Auditing offers two key phrases to help illustrate my point (emphasis added):

"Internal auditing is an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization's operations. It helps an organization accomplish its objectives by bringing a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes."

It would be hard to argue that either of those italicized phrases threaten internal auditor independence. However, fixating on independence can sometimes get in the way of adding value, improving operations, and helping our organizations accomplish their goals.

The spectre of compromising independence can become a convenient crutch to avoid providing creative and advisory services. Yet, if an audit doesn't leave the organization better than it was found, what did the audit accomplish?

As an internal auditor, it's unfair to lob criticisms from the sideline, hiding behind a shield of independence. Instead, be the "action" and not the "reaction." Roll up your sleeves, get engaged, and leverage your independence to empower your organization to be better.

That's my point of view; I'd be happy to hear yours.

To learn more about the IPPF (or refresh yourself if it has been a while), click here.

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