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​​Internal Audit Advocacy: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

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I am writing my blog this week from Panama, where delegates from more than 80 countries and territories around the world have gathered to discuss vital strategic risks and opportunities facing the internal audit profession. An important topic of conversation at this annual event will be advocating the value of internal audit to key stakeholders and others globally.

One of the principal missions of The IIA is to advocate for the profession. This takes on many forms, from promoting The IIA's International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing as the standards for all internal auditors around the world, to special projects, such as our partnership with The World Bank to measure the maturity of the profession across Africa.

Whatever form our advocacy takes, the aim is to raise the profile of internal auditing as vital to good governance and indispensable to organizations. A strong and consistent advocacy effort takes on even more importance as stakeholders seek strong partners to help manage the panoply of risks the modern world throws at our organizations.

The IIA's advocacy goes well beyond its global headquarters. Some of the most impressive advocacy of the profession is being done by some of our more than 100 affiliates in countries and territories around the world. They work closely with public and private industry, regulators, and legislators to make the profession and The IIA an ally in the fight to mitigate risks and achieve organizational success.

But I believe our greatest advocacy assets are the individual practitioners who are the face of internal audit. Their interactions, behavior, successes, failures, professionalism, missteps, and ethics define the profession for most people. If they are not walking the talk every day, then our words will ring hollow. We must make certain, then, that they know and embrace the key advocacy messages we want stakeholders at every level to understand.  

There are dozens if not hundreds of messages that can be distilled from the work of internal audit to promote the profession. But that strength is also our weakness. We have long struggled to find a simple way to express what we do, why organizations should demand it, and what is required to do it well.

The IIA's current strategic plan includes a goal to raise the profile of and demand for the internal audit profession, to ensure it is recognized as an indispensable resource by key stakeholders. This is why I've chosen to hone in on three key messages that every internal auditor should embrace and promote to our stakeholders:

  • Internal audit makes organizations stronger. This is our simplest, most direct statement about our profession. Clearly, this assumes internal audit is properly positioned within an organization, is independent, well-resourced, aligned with organizational strategy, and more. But the fundamental truth is that, when internal audit is effective, it makes the organization stronger.
  • IIA Standards provide the foundation for high-quality audits that help ensure complete, accurate, and reliable information is reported to the board. This message is slightly more complex, and requires at least a fundamental understanding of the profession. However, it is an essential message that stakeholders must understand and embrace. It addresses two basic questions: How do we measure internal audit quality? How does internal audit add value?
  • Certified Internal Auditors demonstrate proficiency in the profession and are better equipped to deliver high-quality audits in accordance with the Standards. This final statement drives home the key message that quality internal audit is inexorably tied to the Standards. A key part of The IIA's advocacy efforts is having our Standards accepted as the only set of globally recognized standards for internal auditing. It is, therefore, imperative that practitioners not just understand and follow the Standards, but celebrate and promote them by becoming CIAs.

There are two other aspects of advocacy that must be addressed, each of which I've taken on in my two books.

In Trusted Advisors: Key Attributes of Outstanding Internal Auditors, I related the pride I felt when The IIA was invited to ring the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 2016, and how that event propelled the profession's reputation and stature. However, some viewed the high-profile event as spectacle, not advocacy. I wrote in Trusted Advisors:

Waving the flag, as we did at the NYSE, does not make us unprofessional or cheesy. It makes us proactive leaders in the effort to close strategic gaps in the un​​​derstanding of the need for and importance of internal auditing in business today. If you run into someone who questions that need or importance, ask them if they've ever heard of Enron, WorldCom, or a number of other companies and organizations that more recently tripped on themselves.

Many practitioners find it unprofessional to toot internal audit's horn. But if we don't, who will?

My final point on advocacy goes back to the earlier comments on the frontline auditor. It speaks to the awesome responsibility of representing the profession in every interaction, large and small. It also addresses this simple concept: We must be willing to work hard to earn a seat at the table. I addressed this in my first book, Lessons Learned on the Audit Trail:

While The IIA can advocate granting auditors a seat at the table, ultimately, decisions about the scope of the auditors' role will be made by boards and executives in the organizations where internal audit resides.

Each CAE, therefore, must demonstrate the insight and ability to participate in the senior management team. Knowing what we want to accomplish and preparing diligently to accomplish it greatly increase our chances of getting to the table.

Advocating for the profession is a complex and long-term effort, one that requires constant monitoring and adjustments. However, the three key statements I've shared​ here should serve as a strong foundation for advocacy, whether we're lobbying a national government or chatting with a new acquaintance at a backyard picnic.

As always, I look forward to your comments.

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