"Mom, be a problem-solver," my six-year-old recently told me. At the time, I was trying to get him to go to bed while he was asking for yet another bedtime story. I explained that I couldn't read him another story because I had just prepared a cup of tea and it was getting cold (this may or may not have been the real reason for my reluctance to read another story). At this point, he said to me, "Mom, be a problem-solver," and then went on to tell me that I should bring my tea to his room and drink it while I was reading to him.
While I was a bit surprised — and honestly impressed — by his comments, it occurred to me that often there are times in life and in our internal audit careers that we may not always embrace the opportunity to solve the problems that we encounter. For example, when it comes to interactions with our internal audit customers, do we readily seek to work with our customers to identify practical solutions to the risks in front of them? Or, do we simply identify the risk and leave it to our audit customers to think through the pros and cons of different potential solutions?
Similarly, if the way we had initially planned to test a high-risk area doesn't work because the data isn't available in the right form, do we seek alternative methods of testing or do we move on because the initial approach did not work? Do we think through possible solutions or do we attempt to make the lack of available data someone else's problem?
Having a problem-solving mindset is a critical skill for internal auditors. As we seek to further develop our problem-solving skills, we position ourselves and our internal audit teams to build stronger relationships with our audit customers and other stakeholders. In addition, we position ourselves and our teams to deliver greater value through the work that we do.
Here are a few quick thoughts on how can we position ourselves to be better problem-solvers:
- Develop a strong understanding of the problem at hand. There are times when we may be tempted to jump straight to potential solutions. However, before jumping straight to the answer, step back and look at the challenge from multiple angles to confirm you have a solid understanding of what the problem really is. Also, consider asking a team member to brainstorm the problem with you to more comprehensively evaluate the situation before zeroing in on a solution. Another way to think about it is that usually the person who asks the best questions comes up with the best solutions.
- Move beyond checklists. Don't simply allow checklists to drive your audit work. Use a problem-solving mentality to better understand the risks within the process that you are auditing and let the risks drive where you spend your limited audit time.
- Embrace the opportunity to learn and grow. Seek out every opportunity that you can to expand your knowledge. You can do this through reading, trying new things, or spending time with people who think differently than you. Look for different points of view and then reach your own conclusion. See my post, "What Did You Learn Today?", for additional thoughts on continuous learning.
- Understand the business. Obviously, from an internal audit perspective, the better we understand our respective businesses, the better positioned we are to help evaluate potential solutions and the risks/rewards to various situations that we encounter in our audit work. Understanding the key business drivers, metrics, financial ratios, and other similar information can better prepare us to have a more comprehensive understanding of the information that we are provided during the audit process.
As we pursue continued growth in our careers, problem-solving is a key skill. To operate at a strategic level, we must be able to think critically and be a problem-solver.
As always, I welcome your feedback. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to enhance his or her problem-solving skills?