​Too Much Value

Audit leaders may be guilty of overkill when reviewing and commenting on staff audit reports.

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A book by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won't Get You There (Hyperion), warns leaders to refrain from "adding too much value." At first, I thought this advice seemed unusual. As managers and leaders, shouldn't we always be looking for ways to add value? Then I realized adding value can, indeed, be overdone. In fact, many audit practitioners are guilty of it.

As auditors rise to leadership positions, we must be especially mindful of value overkill. When
an audit report comes across our desk, we often change wording, alter paragraphs, and revise awkward sentences. Ever the responsible manager, we dutifully correct these errors and send the report back for rework thinking that we have added our little bit of value to the process and
the organization.

What we don't realize is that our actions often have the opposite effect. Think of the last time you received an audit report back from your supervisor with the subject line, "See my suggestions; rework and resubmit." How many of us have then thought, "Oh, I can't wait to see what value my supervisor added!" Over time, employees accept that no project will pass muster the first time, so the quality of the first submission tends to decrease. As report after report is submitted and returned, employees' demotivation becomes palpable. The annotated report is a poor training tool and an even worse vehicle for

I'm not suggesting that audit managers and leaders can never correct or send products back that do not meet a standard. We just need to reconsider the methods and vehicles we use. A more logical approach, for example, would be to continuously train, coach, and mentor auditors upstream so that when audit products are submitted, defects are minimal or nonexistent. Shouldn't the auditor creating the report have a written standard to which the end product will be held? We should ensure that auditors are aware of the standard for reporting and know what the report reviewer expects to see.

Part of the development from a technical auditor to an audit leader involves changing our focus from hands-on, day-to-day tasks to coaching and communicating. The last time you spent an hour making comments, rearranging paragraphs, and inserting pet words into an audit report, did you also spend at least an hour communicating the expected standards to the auditors and coaching them on improvements?

As internal auditors move up the organizational ladder, we often stick to what we know and tend to "audit" the work of those under us. This skill set has served us well in the past and likely even aided our promotion. Nonetheless, audit leaders must avoid this tendency and instead focus on employee development and communication. In other words, we need to start leading.​



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