From Fortune 500 CEOs to vice presidents at mid-sized companies, many business leaders credit mentors with helping them climb the career ladder. Internal audit leaders agree that mentoring is not only an important element of improving staff capabilities, but also key to improving skills and knowledge throughout all departments of the organization. Mentoring, especially from more experienced auditors or even those outside of the field, can help auditors become more relevant to the business.
Mentoring is not an exact science, but audit leaders say some best practices can help improve its effectiveness. The best mentoring relationships are bonded in common interests and friendship. But mentors and mentees also can improve their relationships by establishing goals, engaging in regular face-to-face meetings, and promoting honesty and trust.
Mentoring comes in all shapes and sizes, ranging from formalized structures to loosely formed relationships founded on a common interest. It can improve the quality of staff across an organization and help transfer institutional knowledge and skills down and across the chain of command — from the highest levels of the organization to brand new employees.
David Mallard, a consultant based in Melbourne, Australia, who served as the chief audit executive (CAE) for the Melbourne Post for 12 years, says mentoring has been an important part of his career, both as a mentor and mentee. He says there is a well-rounded role in mentoring to develop not just work skills, but also interpersonal skills that benefit people in all aspects of their lives. “I’ve had mentors in the personal development space who have been very important to me, not only in my nonbusiness life, but my business life as well,” Mallard says.
Eric Runberg, internal audit manager at Republic Services in Phoenix, manages a department of 23 auditors. He says managers should strive to maintain an open relationship with subordinates and encourage their development. “I’ve always tried to approach the managerial responsibility as a steward of human resources,” Runberg says. “I get a big sense of satisfaction in working with people and seeing them achieve great things.”
Formal vs. Informal
There aren’t any hard rules for how a mentoring relationship should be structured, but it is recommended that supervisors not be paired with direct reports for mentoring. While some begin on an introduction and a common interest between two parties, others are formalized relationships guided by a set of rules. The definition of mentoring can vary but it’s ultimately the transfer of knowledge or psychosocial support related to work, a career, or personal development.
5 Mentoring Basics
- Find the right match. In a formal mentoring program, leaders should carefully match mentors and mentees based on needs and personalities. Any conflicts should be reported immediately. Informal mentoring relationships often naturally attain the right match when they develop from friendships or common interests.
- Establish goals. Both the mentor and mentee should establish goals for the relationship. The mentee should clearly communicate his or her goals and desires from the start of the mentorship.
- Meet face-to-face. When possible, meet face-to-face. Office meetings are fine, but some recommend scheduling lunch or meeting for coffee for a looser, less-structured atmosphere.
- Promote honesty and trust. Experienced mentors say it’s essential to create an atmosphere of honesty and trust where opinions, ideas, and situations can be shared in confidence. Both parties should be comfortable giving and receiving constructive criticism.
- Mentor across departments. Internal audit mentors say it’s beneficial to engage in cross-department mentoring to promote understanding outside of departments and to help internal auditors better comprehend their roles in the organization as a whole.
Susan Haseley, managing director at Protiviti in Dallas, credits coaching and mentoring with helping her achieve success in her career. Protiviti has a formal mentoring program that she says has been successful in creating rewarding relationships and highly effective auditors. She says even within a formalized program, mentors often use their own personal experiences to help guide mentees through situations they encounter daily.
Whatever the structure, clear goals and ways to achieve those goals should be defined and documented. Haseley says good mentors take a proactive approach to talk about situations the mentee might encounter. They also provide mentees with up-front advice and then discuss situations after-the-fact to see how it went and what they can learn from it. Haseley says the feedback that mentors provide can help steer mentees in the right direction and also keep them on track.
Mallard says there are benefits in both formal and informal mentoring processes. In a formal mentoring program, participants can define clear objectives and use a systematic approach to achieve milestones and accomplish goals. Mentees also can be partnered with mentors to serve their exact needs, and the structure of the program offers a high chance that goals will be met.
Informal mentoring also has its advantages. Runberg says some of the best mentoring relationships he’s had have been “off the cuff” friendships where two people develop a mutual interest in each other’s career progression. Mallard says what ultimately fuels the success of mentoring is enthusiasm and a willingness to participate.
The frequency of mentor/mentee meetings can vary, but quarterly or monthly is a bare minimum in many formal mentoring programs. Informal mentors and mentees who work closely together and have a solid personal friendship may meet weekly or more. John Lewis, senior vice president of audit at Safeway in Pleasanton, Calif., says he prefers more informal mentoring relationships because the loose schedule may allow for more meetings and more open lines of communication (read about another Safeway mentor, Jennifer Radke, in "Taking the Lead"). Most importantly, as many agree, Lewis says mentoring meetings should be held in-person when possible, to see the person’s expressions and body language — things that can be missed when on the phone.
“You have to have a desire to make change, and mentoring is putting a container around that change,” Mallard says. “A best practice is to ensure there is a clear understanding between the mentor and mentee on the objectives.”
Mentoring Soft Skills
Within internal audit, Runberg says he often tries to mentor less on the nuts and bolts of audit and more on the soft skills. This includes improving communication, dealing with other audit staff, and working with personnel outside of the audit department.
Another issue he discusses with mentees is the importance of finding ways to collaborate with people outside of the audit department, even though they don’t have authority over them. He also mentors people on how to influence decision-making, based on what they need to do with the audit or the findings they propose.
“There is a lot to managing relationships that doesn’t come naturally to most of us,” Runberg says. “Especially for someone with an accounting or finance-related background.”
Haseley says it is common for new auditors to lack the interpersonal communication skills required to obtain the information they need or perform their duties. Effective training can help build those skills, but she says a mentor can help guide them through the process while on the job. Moreover, mentors also can provide insightful feedback on some of the auditors’ actions, and steer them toward improvement. Haseley says there also needs to be a strong hands-on and participatory role for both the mentor and mentee.
Mallard says his mentoring experiences often have involved guiding a person through company politics. A mentor who has been on staff for a while can help a person get situated in a new position by having discussions to identify key players in the organization, the company culture, and how to get things done as an auditor.
Mallard says he also has mentored senior managers with a less formal approach about processes or people in the organization. In many cases, he says, mentoring wasn’t necessarily about audit itself but about maintaining relationships and learning how to work with people. Sometimes that mentoring can be a simple conversation at the water cooler.
“I’ve had very casual conversations with many directors over the years about various topics that weren’t related to audit,” Mallard says. “Sometimes it had nothing to do with the organization and was more about personal relationships.”
John Verver, vice president of product strategy and alliance at ACL in Vancouver, spent 15 years with Deloitte in the United Kingdom and has worked in several audit managerial roles. He says mentoring is important in audit to develop skills in a constantly changing field. Some of the most productive relationships are those that focus on how the role of audit itself can benefit the entire organization, he says. “It can help them become more well-rounded and fit into a role where they are more recognized around the organization and sought after for their knowledge, insight, and unique perspective,” Verver says.
Establishing and maintaining an open and honest relationship is critical for effective mentoring, Haseley says. A mentee needs to speak up when he or she needs guidance and a mentor needs to be honest in giving that feedback or guidance, even if it’s negative. By developing a personal connection from in-person meetings, both participants will be more inclined to share concerns and feedback without sugarcoating it. Those straightforward interactions help ensure the mentee will continue to progress and grow, Haseley explains.
“They need to work together and interact, not just email each other back and forth,” she says. “There needs to be that in-person connection, trust, and honest communication.”
Lewis says mentors should avoid a one-way street of communication where they’re merely talking and presenting information. Being effective takes strong listening skills, the ability to discover what the mentee’s concerns are, and the capacity to grasp his or her unique communication styles. Some people are very direct; others poke, prod, and beat around the bush before clarifying.
Haseley says successful mentoring also takes initiative and action on the part of the person being mentored. Mentees need to be up front and continuously communicate what they want to learn and what they want out of the relationship. At Protiviti, staff are assigned a mentor when they start their careers. Haseley says both the mentor and the mentee get together to discuss career goals and complete a self-assessment of where the mentee is and where he or she would like to go. She says there has to be an honest evaluation on both parts to ensure the relationship is going to be a success and that the right people are paired together (read about Protiviti mentor Leslie Bordelon in "Taking the Lead").
“Once the goals are laid out, we do a strength, weakness, opportunity, threat analysis to see what things you need to grow,” she says. “You start the process of mentoring, and you constantly evaluate your progress toward those goals.”
Verver says mentoring doesn’t always come naturally, and there has to be a genuine interest and desire to serve the person being mentored. Even with the highest degree of knowledge or operational experience, some may struggle to mentor effectively. He recalls two effective mentors from early in his career, who had a vested interest in his progression and in seeing him succeed.
“It’s not a skill set that everyone has,” he explains. “In the most successful mentoring practice, the person who is providing the mentoring is also learning how to be a better mentor.”
Make a Connection
When mentees are assigned designated mentors, some people click with others more easily. A lack of connection between a mentor and mentee can make the process a rocky road.
“You cannot force interaction,” Haseley says. “If the relationship is not working, they need to be allowed to speak up.” There needs to be an open door to allow either party to be reassigned to another person. Having multiple mentors can be beneficial, she says.
Lewis says cross-department mentoring is beneficial to both parties. Having an audit executive mentor a staff member in operations or marketing can help participants in both departments learn more about the other. Lewis has mentored people outside of audit and says some of his most rewarding mentoring relationships have been with those striving to become better leaders.
Mentoring ultimately is about individual relationships and how they enable participants to transfer knowledge and experience. Mallard says mentoring should be ongoing throughout every career, and that even the most advanced executives can still find value in mentors of their own. “Mentoring creates value and personal growth for everyone involved,” Mallard says. “It makes all of us more effective.”
“Mentoring is an ongoing process that helps mentees learn and become more confident in the job they are doing,” Haseley adds. “It is really about that journey.”