How we communicate with one another is changing more rapidly than at any time in history. Technology has put the power of global communication into the hands of ordinary people. We can access and create information, and share it with each other, in a multitude of ways. We can communicate virtually wherever, whenever, and however we like — and we can do it all instantaneously.
As a consequence, our world often feels like a much smaller place. Technology platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have brought people together as never before. And when people come together, exciting things happen. We've seen seismic shifts in politics, civil rights, and culture — all inspired and enabled by new communication technologies.
Organizational and business life has changed, too. Within the internal audit profession, for example, thousands of IIA members now use social media to engage in conversations about the latest practices and issues in governance and risk management. IIA institutes and chapters are embracing this new reality as they leverage the opportunity to share information about the profession worldwide. In just the last 12 months, IIA Global Headquarters has reached up to 3.2 million people through its various social media channels.
But the ability to communicate is worth very little if nobody is listening. It doesn't matter what an article, tweet, or video tries to say if nobody reads it or engages with it. The same applies to what we write in our audit reports, what we say in meetings, and what our IIA advocates say to policymakers. An auditor might have a head full of brilliant ideas, but none of it matters if nobody listens.
As individual auditors, and as a profession, we need to be heard. But if we want people to listen to us, if we want to be at the table when the big issues are debated, we must always keep in mind that how we communicate is as important as what we communicate. We have to "Say It Right" — and that's my theme as chairman of The IIA for the coming year.
Keeping Pace With Change
It's hardly news that internal auditors need to be effective communicators. "Soft skills" like listening and empathizing are as necessary as the "hard skills" like audit planning or data analysis. Nearly anyone who wants to succeed in the modern workplace, auditor or otherwise, needs to be an outstanding communicator.
Indeed, getting communications right is now more important than ever. The business world is changing fast. We all work in an increasingly globalized, multinational, and multicultural world. As the developed economies struggle, the developing nations are driving global trade. Last year 40 percent of merger and acquisition deals involved an emerging market company — that's twice the level of a decade ago. Few organizations — or audit departments — work without being impacted by what happens outside national boundaries; we are increasingly connected to, and dependent on, people who we may never meet and who may not speak our language. Therefore, language is going to be a key factor in our ability to communicate effectively.
We also live in a time when the volume and pace of communications are increasing at an almost incomprehensible speed. There are new ways of reaching people — such as social media and online video — and new audiences that need to hear our message. The sheer capacity of today's communication tools can be daunting at times, and the ease and speed with which we can deliver messages is a risk in itself. But on the upside, new technologies mean there have never been greater opportunities for those who communicate well.
In Touch With the Organization
First-rate communication skills are a vital part of our work as auditors. Even on the most straightforward assignment, we need to listen to the people we encounter, explain what we are doing in terms they understand, and reassure them about our aims. We need to report our findings and recommendations clearly, and communicate them in a way that makes them valuable and actionable. We can work effectively only if people trust us. But it can be harder to build trusting relationships when companies are cutting staff, or our own internal audit resources are tight, or we are dealing with people on the other side of the world. To overcome these difficulties, our communication needs to be excellent.
We need to communicate effectively with other assurance providers, too. Research shows time and again that organizations benefit most from their risk and control investments when their assurance functions work together. Often, internal audit will lead and coordinate these efforts, ensuring there are no gaps or overlaps in assurance coverage. Other times internal audit will take its place as one provider among many. Either way, we need to show clear, open, and honest communications.
We need to avoid turf wars, buck passing, or any wasteful politicking. We need to understand and talk about what the business needs, not just what internal audit needs. And as we find new ways of using our skills and adding value, we need to be able to explain very clearly what we can't or won't do — our red lines of independence and objectivity — without appearing obstructive or unwilling. But we cannot hide behind independence, as this will surely lead to us being marginalized as irrelevant. Again, it's about relationships built on communications.
We definitely need to say it right if we are to earn our seat at the top table in the organization. This isn't a level of access that we can claim by right. We need senior executives and audit committee members to invite us in. We need their support to do our work correctly, but we'll only get it if we are seen as constructive business advisers — people with something valuable to say, and the courage and skill to say it.
The higher we report, the more valuable our work. The earlier we get involved when the organization undergoes strategic decision making, the better. We want to provide solutions, not just find problems. And we need to present those solutions in a way that makes it more likely they will be accepted and implemented. As The IIA's recent Common Body of Knowledge study shows, we need to move from hindsight to insight, to show tangible value to our organizations.
Service to the Profession
Meet the Chairman
Philip Tarling began his internal audit career in 1986, securing the IIA–U.K. and Ireland’s CMIIA qualification three years later. Since then he has worked as the chief audit executive in a hospital group and served as the national internal audit partner for three U.K.-based accounting firms. He currently is the vice president for the Internal Audit Centre of Excellence at global information and communications technology company Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Tarling served as a board member for the IIA–U.K. and Ireland from 1996 to 2007, completing a term as president in 2005–2006. He also served as the U.K. and Ireland board member of the European Confederation of Institutes of Internal Auditing (ECIIA) from 2007 to 2011, completing a term as ECIIA president in 2010–2011. He was a member of the IIA Global Board from 1999 to 2008, when he was elected to The Institute’s Executive Committee, and has served as international secretary, vice chair —
professional practices, vice chair — professional development, and senior vice chair. He became chair of the IIA Global Board in July.
Excellent communication skills also are vital to The IIA. For instance, the 2008 financial crisis changed the regulatory landscape. Policymakers around the world have been legislating to change corporate behavior on issues such as governance, risk, and control. The Institute must be involved in this process, making the case for professional, independent assurance.
And effective communications are, of course, an essential part of delivering services to our members. We need to listen to what members need and what they think; we should give them relevant, concise, and timely guidance on the issues of the day.
This information exchange is especially important as organizations in the world's emerging markets take a more mature approach to governance, risk, and control. The IIA has a fantastic opportunity to further develop a genuine, global internal audit community. If we can establish a common understanding of the purpose of internal audit, how it should operate, and what skills and qualifications are needed, it would benefit our employers, our profession, and our individual career prospects.
Now I'm not saying we should be listened to, or that we should have access to business leaders, for the sake of our profession's collective ego. Rather, I want us to say it right so that people know what we — individual auditors and The IIA — can offer and how we can help, because I believe they will benefit from it.
As professionals, we've made a lot of progress in our ability to communicate. My sense is that most people who work in a large business or organization now understand what internal audit does, and they appreciate our contributions — although they might not always feel that way when they know we are coming to audit them. When I talk to executives at the top of organizations — especially audit committee members — it's clear they value internal audit highly. The maturity of audit and assurance thinking will always vary from one organization to another, of course. And even in the best organizations there will be people who have yet to appreciate the value of internal audit — but I'm sure we can convert them.
Still, we should always be looking to extend and develop the areas in which we work — not as part of an organizational land grab, but to find new ways of making a useful contribution. We have an important role to play, and we should not be afraid to promote ourselves. We need to tell people — in clear and simple language — what we can do and why it is valuable. And we need to keep telling them.
We've made significant progress as a professional body, too. In my work with The IIA I've spent many long days traveling the world, talking to people, and twisting the occasional arm in an effort to advocate the need for professional internal audit to governments, regulatory bodies, development agencies, and elsewhere.
From Lithuania to Lagos and places in between, by communicating its values and principles The IIA has promoted the need for professional internal auditing. We've formed effective alliances with other professional bodies in Europe, and we've created a new federation to speak to political leaders across Africa. In the United States, we're taking significant strides to extend ourselves on both the regulatory and legislative side, so we can exert influence appropriately in areas affecting not only internal audit but also corporate governance, risk management, and control.
We've been working hard on our Global Advocacy Platform — a tool that helps our institutes and chapters develop their individual advocacy efforts consistently. The platform will make it easier for our 175,000 members to speak with one voice about the role of internal audit and the contribution we can make to good governance, robust risk management, and effective control. And we are developing our suite of certifications to ensure they are as relevant as ever. That includes a new specialty exam aimed at those looking to obtain the recently introduced Certificate in Risk Management Assurance designation, as well as a new certification for chief audit executives, so that internal auditors can become more relevant to the modern marketplace.
We are also becoming more adept at talking to our members in whatever form they prefer. We've revamped Internal Auditor and now offer a mobile version as well as a Spanish-language digital edition that reaches out to our many Spanish-speaking members. Plus, auditors can now watch their peers discussing audit issues on The IIA's AuditChannel.org — a video-sharing website similar to YouTube. We also have more than 40,000 members participating in The Institute's LinkedIn discussion group, which ranks as one of the 300 largest such groups on the site. And thanks to our mobile technology efforts, delegates to The IIA's 2012 General Audit Management Conference and International Conference could find their way around the events and follow the activities using a custom-made smartphone and tablet app. In short, we are using technology to reach more people in more ways than ever before.
During my year as IIA chairman I'll be visiting as many of our international institutes and North American chapters as I can, urging members to "say it right." I'll be practicing what I preach, listening to the messages that members give me, and making sure those messages lead to action.
The Road Ahead
Remember, the future is what we want to make it. Being in the communication business I've seen how new technologies like cloud computing and social media create an opportunity to generate and share vast amounts of information (see "Facing IT Risk Head-on" and "The Social Media Scene"). These technologies are having a profound effect on the way business is done. As internal auditors, we need to keep up with these changes and make the most of them. And as a professional body we need to make sure we are fully serving our existing members while continually reaching out to new ones. Collectively, we should never be afraid to speak up and deliver our message. And just as importantly, we must always be sure to say it right.