​​For Internal Auditors, Awareness Begins at Home

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Most of us in internal audit leadership roles naturally assume that board members and management fully understand our capabilities and appreciate the value that internal audit can deliver. But do they really understand? And if they don’t, whose fault is that?

Advocating for the internal audit profession is one of The IIA’s top priorities year-round. But each May, we join our members in turning up the volume a bit in telling our story. As part of International Internal Audit Awareness Month, we seek recognition and proclamations from government officials, we reach out to youth, we get out into the community, we engage through social media, and we participate in myriad other activities to promote awareness and support.

Indeed, IIA chapters and institutes this month are hosting events around the world designed to raise the internal audit flag. Thousands participated in global celebrations last year, and our hope is that the momentum will build this year.

Each of our awareness initiatives is important. Why? Because internal auditing is among perhaps the least understood professions. So, we can only benefit when we make a special effort, such as during Internal Audit Awareness Month, to rally support from public officials, regulators, students, and the general public.

While it is important to reach each to those groups, it’s critical that we connect with an even more important audience: The very people we work for and with every day.

Awareness begins at home. We can win the battle but lose the war if we don’t redouble our efforts to improve communications with our key stakeholders. More than any other group, our organizations’ directors and executive management teams need to understand what we can do and the value we are capable of bringing to the table.

There is a strong possibility that your stakeholders don’t understand internal auditing as well as you might think. KPMG’s 2014 Global Audit Committee Survey indicates, for example, that more than 80 percent of audit committee members believe internal audit’s role should extend beyond the adequacy of financial reporting and controls to include other key risks. But only 50 percent believe that internal audit currently has the skills and resources to be effective in the role they envision.

If so many of our most important stakeholders do not believe we have the skills or resources to get the job done, then we haven’t done an effective job creating understanding and meeting expectations.

Too often, from my experience, audit committee and other board members join an organization with preconceived ideas about internal audit’s capabilities. If they have been around strong internal audit functions steeped in talent and possessing a deep understanding of strategic business risks, they will expect the internal audit function in their new organization to perform at the same level. However, if they have been around weak and ineffective internal audit functions (or if this is their first association with internal audit), their expectations for our ability to deliver may be very limited. These are the stakeholders who present an excellent target for advocacy at home. We should never make the fatal mistake of meeting low expectations.

Admittedly, many professions struggle with those who lack the training or other resources to be effective. But based upon my observation of hundreds of internal audit functions, the vast majority of internal audit departments do have the skills to be highly effective in the roles envisioned by their audit committees and management teams.

We have plenty of opportunities to enhance understanding of our profession. That’s why I recently blogged about having a well-prepared elevator speech. But reforming opinions can be a big job – too big to rely solely on chance meetings or outreach by a professional association.

Don’t let opportunity pass to advocate the importance of internal auditing to your key stakeholders. The better they understand our capabilities, the more likely they are to leverage internal audit in enhancing risk management, internal controls and corporate governance. How are you spreading the good word? Let me know!

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