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​Internal Auditors: What Is It You Do?

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Anyone who spends time with internal auditors will quickly learn there is a quiet passion that drives many of the best practitioners. It is built on genuine desire to help our organizations, the well-earned respect from those we interact with, and unwavering pride in the service we provide as internal auditors.

Yet, as a profession, we often struggle to explain what it is we do. This challenge is so commonplace, we've learned to joke about it. One of my favorites is about the man who instructs his child to tell his classmates that he works at McDonald's, because it's easier than explaining he's an internal auditor.

This self-deprecating attitude among internal auditors is pervasive. In my many travels as president and CEO of The IIA, I have seen this humility and reticence among my peers all over the world. This may be at the heart of why we struggle to explain what we do. 

Earlier this month, I posted an item on LinkedIn about our profession. It struck a chord. Beyond the 50,000 views and 750 likes, it was the dozens of comments of support that convinced me that I should share it in my blog. This is what I posted on LinkedIn:

The next time someone asks:

  • I am an internal auditor!

  • I serve my organization to protect and enhance its value.

  • I model integrity, objectivity, confidentiality, and competency every day.

  • I improve risk management, internal controls, and governance in my organization.

  • I follow The IIA's International Standards when providing assurance and advice.

  • I am respected and admired, because I am a guardian of trust!

We should never be stumped when we're asked what we do. We need to know what distinguishes us as a profession, and the things that make us proud. It is in that spirit that I crafted what I would say if someone asked me on an elevator, "What is it you do?"

Let's explore the words in my LinkedIn post.

I am an internal auditor! This first line should be pretty self-explanatory. We should be proud and confident about being internal auditors. Few professions offer the opportunities to contribute to the success of our organizations like internal auditing does. I wouldn't try to rebrand myself by referring to myself as a risk management professional or a "change agent." I am an internal auditor!

I serve my organization to protect and enhance its value. We're not just here to guard the doors and make sure people don't walk off with the assets. We're not here just to make sure others are not breaking the rules. We're here to make sure the organizations we work for achieve their objectives — creating value for shareholders/stakeholders.

I model integrity, objectivity, confidentiality, and competency every day. These are taken from the four elements of The IIA's Code of Ethics. This is what we stand for as a profession, and it is something every practitioner should exhibit with every engagement and interaction.

I improve risk management, internal controls, and governance in my organization. This is at the heart of the definition of internal auditing articulated in the International Professional Practices Framework. The definition speaks to adding value and improving an organization's operations. We do this by improving risk management, internal controls, and governance. Simply, we make our organizations better.

I follow The IIA's International Standards when providing assurance and advice. All professions have to have standards. They are what sets individuals apart as professionals. This is why we must follow The IIA's Standards— to ensure the quality is there. I also urge internal auditors who have earned IIA certifications to proudly speak out. One should not be shy about proclaiming, "I am certified by The IIA to demonstrate the proficiency I have for carrying out my responsibilities as a professional internal auditor."

I am respected and admired, because I am a guardian of trust! This is a wonderful claim for any professional to make. Every internal auditor may not be respected and admired as a guardian of trust, but that should be their aspiration.

These six simple messages shouldn't be viewed as a creed to repeat from memory every time we're asked what we do. Instead, they should be used to add a little color to our description of internal auditing. They reveal an inspired and impassioned profession that is committed to making organizations better. 

We should be proud of what we do, and we should communicate that every day.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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