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​Internal Audit and the Value of Perspective

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Great internal auditors understand the value of perspective. When grown and nurtured through exposure to all areas of the organization, it is the driver of insight. This definition sums up exactly how perspective works for internal audit:

The faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship.

Indeed, developing an informed perspective of the organizations we serve is at the heart of establishing, demonstrating, and maintaining internal audit's value. It is this holistic knowledge that helps internal audit steer the organization clear of the problems that keep the C-suite and board up at night.

My thoughts turned to the value of perspective during The IIA's recent All Star Conference. As many of you know, the annual conference brings together the best of the best – those speakers from the past year's IIA conferences who received the highest rating from attendees. Three speakers in particular got my attention as they shared their perspectives on the profession from three distinct points of view: the CAE, the CFO, and the successful business leader.

Bethmara Kessler is no stranger to the All Star Conference. A popular and insightful speaker, she is the CAE at Campbell Soup Co. Her presentation, titled "Positioning Internal Audit for the Future," focused on embracing change in how internal audit operates.

She promised and delivered a program that challenged internal auditors to change their mind-set about the profession, or face irrelevancy. She described the successful internal auditor of the future as being passionate, focused on what matters, possessing expertise that is coveted, and capable of influencing the organization.

Kessler urged auditors to:

  • Introduce disruptive chaos. "Don't hold onto sacred cows, or you will be wearing the irrelevant nametag."
  • Improve soft skills. "If people don't like us, they won't want to hear what we have to say."
  • Work smarter, not harder. "Foster a culture of innovation."

While Kessler provided insight from an insider, Craig Robinson offered his views as a CFO and former internal auditor. His presentation, "Internal Audit from a CFO's Perspective," provided candid advice on building stronger relationships with the C-suite.

Open and frequent communication with the CFO means getting to know the person occupying the office, including his or her schedule, preferences, and quirks. Building a positive relationship with the CFO's personal admin is just as important, he added.

Robinson's practical insights to help keep a relationship with the CFO healthy:

  • Don't blindside management. "Don't surprise me. It stabs me in the heart. Tell me before it becomes a problem, before it goes to the audit committee."
  • Be careful of your office relationships. "The CFO can never have concerns about your objectivity."
  • Internal audit is held to a higher standard. "Play by the rules. Set the example."
  • Be resilient. "You need to have the thickest skin in the room."

He also shared these important words of encouragement: "I see internal audit as my bullpen. I don't see internal auditors. I see future leaders."

Finally, some particularly intriguing insights on leadership and accountability came from former NFL great George Martin. An 11th-round draft pick from the University of Oregon, Martin's unlikely rise to the pinnacle of professional football is clearly inspirational. But his observations about overcoming challenges, nurturing leadership, and building organizational integrity are what elevated his presentation to All Star status.

As a member of Super Bowl XXI Champion New York Giants, Martin reached his ultimate career goal. Along the way, he also picked up four keys to success: organizational integrity, leadership, the power of self, and assessing success.

Martin shared some these additional insights:

  • On his first training camp. "The NFL talent management process is like modern gold mining. The organization goes through tons of earth to find a few nuggets of gold."
  • On his first hit at training camp. "This guy hit me so hard, he rearranged my DNA."
  • On getting up after that first hit. "It's no sin to get knocked down. It's a sin to stay down."
  • On his four key lessons. "We're not talking about football. We're talking about keys to success that happened to occur on the football field."

These diverse perspectives add color and insight to how internal audit interacts with organizations. I hope reading them provides food for thought. 

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