This year, it's going to be different. I'm not talking about the New Year's resolutions of years past — the ones in which we promised solemnly that we would exercise every day and not only lose 10 pounds (or should it be 20?) but keep the excess pounds off forever. I'm sure that there are a few people who manage to keep resolutions like these. Good for you, whoever you are! But most of us just don't need another set of unlikely resolutions that are doomed to be forgotten by February.
Instead, we need something new: A few simple resolutions that are powerful enough to change our lives — but that are so painless that keeping our resolutions changes from a possibility to a probability.
As professional internal auditors, is it easy to create New Year's resolutions that are both powerful and likely to be accomplished? No. Could we adopt some resolutions that will enhance our performance? Yes. So, to help you get started, I have created a list of five New Year's resolutions that I believe every internal auditor should consider. The bad news is that for the resolutions to work, you still have to make a commitment; the good news is that keeping these resolutions is unlikely to prove as taxing as keeping that weight off forever.
1. Invest in yourself as a professional.
If you know your image falls short of the polished "business professional" look your employer prefers ... invest in your wardrobe. That could be a good investment. But for an even better investment, put your time and money into improving yourself as a professional.
In tough economic times, it might be unrealistic to expect every employer to pick up the bill for all of your career development needs. But when it comes to investing in ourselves, there can be no excuses. As my friend, and Chairman of the North American Board, Larry Harrington says, why should we expect others to invest in us if we are not willing to invest in our own personal brand?
If you believe you would improve your skills by going to a seminar but your company has eliminated the training budget for the coming year ... go anyway. Or, at the least, find an alternative way to obtain the training you need.
If you believe a professional certification would help your career, or if you believe improving your computer skills could lead to a better job ... start studying, and be prepared to invest in the modest costs of acquiring a globally recognized qualification such as the Certified Internal Auditor.
2. Be able to articulate your value.
Imagine that each time you meet a new co-worker, you could substantially increase the odds that he or she would leave the meeting convinced you are a dedicated, enthusiastic professional who could help improve any organization you work for. An impossible dream? Not if you take the time to develop "career insurance" by preparing in advance for the questions you are most likely to encounter when meeting other professionals who don't know what internal auditors do.
Fortunately for internal auditors, if you have been preparing properly for entrance conferences, some of your advance preparation is already done. You probably already have standard answers for questions like, "How can internal auditing help me?" or "Why do we need internal controls?"
Just as you need to be prepared for the questions you are most likely to be asked in an entrance conference, you also need to be prepared for career questions from other sources. You might think you are prepared for chance meetings in elevators or at cocktail parties — but have you really prepared adequately?
If you haven't already perfected your "elevator speech," the new year is a great time to reflect on the 10 or 15 career questions you are most likely to be asked by strangers, and to hone your answers to each of these questions. Do your answers go beyond the basic facts to demonstrate your value and the value of your profession? If not ... it's time for you to develop some new answers.
3. Enhance communications.
I've often heard that no skills are as valuable to an internal auditor as communications skills. Unfortunately, though, internal auditors often seem to lack a passion for communication: As a group, we tend to know a lot more than we say.
I wish I could believe that auditors' listening skills are far superior to our speaking skills, but even our listening ability is open to question. Take, for example, the dreaded phrase, "The auditors just wouldn't listen to reason." If you are listening effectively, you should never, ever, have to hear someone say this! We won't always agree with those whose areas of responsibility we are auditing, but we should at the very least resolve to demonstrate through our words and actions that they have been heard and their words have been considered.
4. Follow the risks.
Following the risks seems so obvious to most internal auditors that it shouldn't even require a New Year's resolution to get it done. But it's all too easy to become complaisant, especially if last year's risks resulted in powerful audit recommendations. We tend to be more comfortable auditing areas we looked at recently — after all, we know the people and the issues, and we had good results there in the past. Unfortunately, though, repeating last year's audits without considering this year's risks may not yield much value for our stakeholders.
5. Align with stakeholder expectations.
"Aligning with stakeholder expectations" seems to be a new mantra for internal auditors — and with good reason. If you, your audit committee, and your senior management do not share a common vision of what to expect from internal audit, the new year might turn out to be a rough one for the auditors.
We need to actively manage against stakeholder expectations. Are our capabilities up to the job of meeting stakeholder expectations? If not, we need to enhance our capabilities. In many instances, I have found that we are far more capable than they give us credit for. For example, does our audit committee even know that we can provide them assurance on the effectiveness of risk management? I believe we have an obligation to create awareness on the part of our stakeholders about the true potential of a high-performing internal audit function. We have a responsibility for ensuring that their expectations do not fall short of our potential. There are many appropriate roles for internal audit: At times, we must help our stakeholder groups understand exactly what internal audit can and cannot do for them.
These are only a few of the many New Year's resolutions that might be appropriate for internal audit. In keeping with The IIA's motto, Progress Through Sharing, please share any additional resolutions that you believe internal auditors should make as the new year gets underway.