This trip is going to be rather circuitous, so let me lay out a bit of a road map. We will start out with creativity and innovation, take a trip to a website that talks about theme parks, visit internal audit's approach to people, and wind up with the question "Does internal audit understand what kind of people will make the department a success?"
Let's start with the premise that creativity and innovation are an essential part of internal audit's ability to maintain relevance in the future. (I believe this premise because creativity and innovation are core to
any profession's/department's/organization's ability to maintain relevance.) That means we should be looking for creativity and innovation in everything we do.
With that in mind, I refer you to the Theme Park University website and an
interesting article titled "Will Hiring Simulations for Theme Parks Be the Next Big Thing?" Theme Park University is a fascinating website that is "a place for the exploration and critical analysis of live interactive media." In the process of exploring theme parks and other related amusements, the site has a lot to say about creativity and innovation. (A key to creativity is looking for resources in unusual places. This is the type of unusual place you should be visiting.) Read through the article and you will see there is an innovative approach to interviewing that is now available to the theme park industry. But what does this have to do with internal audit?
When you get to the root of it — when you want to talk about the success of internal audit — it really comes down to one thing: People. You know this, I know this, everyone knows this. Yet, take a closer look at the actions underlying those words and you may find it is often sound and fury, signifying a sizable discrepancy.
One example: How much of internal audit's budget is allocated to training? How many hours are allocated to training? Do those numbers match the commitment our words would imply? Even worse, how much of that budget (time and dollars) is left over at the end of the year because "We just didn't have time to get to it?"
But that's not really why I called you here. Instead, I want to raise the question, when is the last time we took a close look at how we hire? When is the last time we tried to use any real innovation in that process? As discussed in the Theme Park University article, Employment Technologies Corp. has brought technological innovation to the applicant screening process. And it is an approach internal audit should inspect closely. Rather than the tried-and-true, dry as dust, fill-in-the-blanks approach to finding out whether the applicant has the skills we desire, this interactive approach might provide better insights into the individual and whether they are a good fit with the profession, the department, and the organization.
Imagine the applicant sitting at the computer and being put in a real-world situation. (The screen shots in the article use animation; real people would probably work better for the business world.) Here's an example:
The scenario is a discussion of audit results. As the questions and answers move forward, the discussion escalates until the director yells, "This is exactly what I expected! You've always had it in for me!!" Suggested responses include: "That is untrue. Everything within this report is based on fact," "Internal audit is based on independence and objectivity, this has nothing to do with personal feelings," "I know you have been upset about prior audits, but our discussion is about this audit," and "Obviously we have reached a point where we are no longer discussing facts. Let's close this meeting and meet later when everyone has cooled down."
(By the way, this one is based on true-life events. Next time you see me, ask and I'll tell you the story.)
I think you can see how such questions and responses would reveal a lot about the applicant. (Imagine how you would respond if it was you looking for a job.)
But there is a problem. Such in-depth questioning is meaningless if you haven't truly defined the kind of people you want working in your department. And I do not believe any of us have given this the deep-dive inspection it deserves. Oh, we know that we want people with critical thinking skills and communication skills and a little accounting would be nice and some business knowledge would be even nicer and a basic understanding of risks and controls would be a bit of lagniappe. But we do not fully understand the kind of people we are looking for.
We can all agree that we don't want all our auditors to be happy and peppy, top-grade theme park employees. But neither can they be reclusive shut-ins who interact best when they are not interacting at all. (And there are those kind of audit shops out there; I've seen you, I've talked to you, I've run the other way from you.) And do we even understand the needs and expectations of our customers regarding communications with the internal audit department? Do we take those into account when talking to applicants about becoming an internal auditor?
Perhaps the greatest benefit of designing such a set of interview questions would be that it would force us to take that close, hard look at what we really need from internal audit employees. We blithely say we want communication skills and then we try to determine those skills in a one-hour meeting. Oh yeah, we might have them do a writing test. But what do we know about the way they interact? And exactly what are we looking for in those interactions? What kind of communication skills are we looking for?
I suggest that we haven't really defined the kind of people we want; we have only defined a set of skills that are too broad to provide a basis for success. I suggest that by gaining a deeper understanding of the personalities we need — the personalities that will lead to success in all levels — audit can become staffed with effective communicators, critical thinkers, and successful business people.
And I suggest you take some time to read through the article referenced above, explore the site, and use such outside influences to come up with the creative and innovative ideas that will allow our profession to flourish.