The last few Fridays (except for a couple of hiccup/no-content
days), I’ve been talking about the way internal audit departments’ measure
their success. (You can see them here, here, and here.) A major point I
intended to make was that we focus too strongly on financial and process
measures, avoiding measures related to our most important asset – people. The number
of financial and process measures always seems to far outweigh those related to
how we identify, support, and develop talent.
But, after all this discussion, another thought came to mind;
actually, a rather heretical idea. Quite simply, maybe we should just quit worrying
about measures of success. What if we just didn’t do it? After all, what is the
These are not rhetorical questions. I’m completely serious. What
are all these measurements about?
Well, of course, the quick, easy answer is that they exist
to show the board and executives what a really spiffy, splendiferous job the
audit department is doing.
To which I reply, “If they have to ask if we are successful,
then we have failed.”
All the metrics in the world – audits completed; utilization;
findings implemented; audits completed on time; actual hours to budgeted hours;
reports issued with a minimum of rewrites; surveys with an “exceeds expectations”,
“really exceeds expectations”, or “really, really, really exceeds expectations”
rating.; any of the myriad machinations we go through to show what we have
accomplished – mean nothing if their only purpose is to prove to our primary
customers that we have provided value. No amount of numbers, statistics,
calculations, bar charts, line graphs, pie charts, or even spirographs will
make up for a lack of constant dialogue with those customers – a dialogue that
includes determining what they think they need, what they may not realize they
need, and how internal audit is providing those services better than anyone
Success is not numbers. Success is a board that, when
approached by someone to outsource the department, laughs them out of the room.
Success is C-Suite executives that come to the auditing department to discuss
the world. Success is our customers/clients/stakeholders wanting to know why we
haven’t been around more often. Success is anyone – from the board to the line
personnel – coming to internal audit for advice when any new issue, risk, or
Unfortunately, it is nigh on impossible to measure such
intangibles. The supreme court, many years ago, famously said about pornography
“We know it when we see it.” And that is just as true for defining the success
of the internal audit department. Measurable or not, everyone knows success has
occurred when the customer responses described above become commonplace .
We know it when we see it.
Of course we want to make sure we are getting the work done
and developing people and responding to our clients and doing it all in a timely
manner. But measures of success in those areas are just support to the ultimate
Would they miss us if we were gone?