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​The Knowledge Needed to Run Amuck

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In my last two blog posts, I talked at great length (probably too great a length) about allowing internal auditors the freedom to get their jobs done and to explore better ways to do it. In the first post, I talked about the scourge of micromanagement, and in the second I talked about letting auditors free to truly explore. (Creative, but dangerous.)

After re-reading these posts and taking note of some comments I received, I realized that an important point fell by the wayside. In one paragraph I made the following comment: "When I first came into internal audit, I was lucky to work for leaders who allowed me a lot of freedom. Yes, I was trained, but I wasn't forced down a path."

Over 3,000 words in two separate blog posts and only once did I utter the phrase "I was trained."

I got so wrapped up in the preaching of freedom that I forgot such freedom can only occur when people have the knowledge necessary to get their jobs done. Picasso didn't blur the lines until he knew how to draw them. And internal auditors cannot know how to change internal audit until they know how the work is done.

So, yes, train, train, and train again. (And never allow yourself to quit learning; another topic for another time.) However, just because someone is still learning doesn't mean you have to hogtie them until such time as you think they've got it perfected.

When I first joined internal audit, my initial training consisted of learning the basics of how audit worked and then being given an audit program to complete. My supervisor walked me through it as we went along, and my manager was there if I needed additional help. 

For my second audit, I was given an area to review, but was not provided an audit program. The expectation was that I should know how an audit was conducted and I was to use that knowledge to build and execute my own audit program. Yes, I was to ask questions as necessary, but it was my audit to complete — succeed or fail. (It should be noted that I found a quarter-million-dollar issue in that audit. Not bad for a newbie. Of course, I never did that again, but that is beside the point.)

Training, yes. Training first, yes. But do not using a perceived lack of training as an excuse to micromanage or to restrain initiative and creativity.

How do you approach training? What do you do after you have provided the basic information on how to get the work done — how to complete the audit? Do you let the auditor go free and see what happens? Or, in a fit of risk aversion, do you watch every step to ensure no step is out of line? If you continue to watch the auditor that closely, keeping them in line and changing things before they can go even one degree south, how do you know if that staff member is any good, or will ever be any good?

Here's my suggestion. If you really want to know how talented a person is — new auditors, experienced auditors, and anything in between — first make sure they have the tools they need — the training, the understanding of the work, etc. Then, let them go. Be available. Be there to answer any question. Have specific check points where you can be updated. But do not hover, watching and verifying every workpaper and note and spreadsheet and tic and tie, double-checking everything as if the expectation is failure.

You cannot know how good any employee is if you don't give him or her the freedom to explore, learn, and, yes, fail. (There are such things as "safe failures." Understand the concept and apply it.) And let's take it all one step further. Good does not mean the ability to follow all the rules that were learned during training — how to complete a form, how to complete the assigned test, how to conduct an interview. No, good means running into something new/different/unplanned and successfully navigating the necessary changes. Such skills will never be developed unless the auditor is given the freedom to practice them.

I started this post with the intent of reinforcing that people cannot be expected to be successful in doing normal or extraordinary work unless they have the necessary training. And I want to repeat that nothing I said in the last two posts, as well as this one, was meant to imply that training and knowledge should take a backseat. However, I've co-opted my own blog post and, once again, am pushing for creativity and freedom.

Here's my excuse. I think the profession does a pretty good job of finding talented people and giving them the training they need to get the work done. But I think we wait too long to even think about letting them step outside the limited scopes we have established.

Instead, use that talent, use that training, and build on those talented, trained people to make internal audit better. 

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