Outside of boxing or mixed martial arts, internal auditing has to be one of the most contentious careers around. After all, you hardly ever a department saying, “Let’s invite the internal auditors to our next staff meeting.” But I don’t think we’re destined to be the bad guys that everyone hates to see coming and loves to see going. I believe that there are truly opportunities for internal auditors to become partners with audit clients.
As a matter of fact, recent experiences have further increased my belief in the auditor’s ability to be a trusted partner, a sought after consultant and in some instances, maybe even a friend. I’ve been at my current organization almost ten years. I get along very well with my audit clients, even the ones that have had bad audits results. We have open, honest relationships where we all care about the organization and its success.
I’ve always been a very good technical auditor and knew that these skills allow me to go far. But my current organization taught me a lot about the human side of the workplace. Many of the people I work with have become almost like an extended family. Recently, another organization approached me about being their Executive Director of Internal Auditing. This was an opportunity that I just could not refuse. Now as I am reflecting back on my time at the current employer, the thing that I will most miss are the people.
As I was walking around spreading the word of my leaving, I found out that the feeling was mutual. The kind words and warm hugs nearly brought me to tears and as everyone told me how big of a loss that my leaving was to the University and how much they would miss me, I could not help but remind them, “You do understand, I am an auditor.”
Realistically I don’t think that they’re supposed to like me, but I really do believe most of them truly valued our time together and appreciated and cherished our friendship. Those who didn’t like me, at least respected me and my craft. I heard things like, “No, you can’t go,” and “You’ve done a lot of great work here and your contributions and input will truly be missed,” or “We might find someone to do your job, but we’ll never find someone that can replace you.”
I felt a huge sense of pride knowing that I had tried my best and had done a good job. But then I also wondered what had I done to gain the trust and respect of my audit clients. So I asked a few. And I’d like to share with you the general themes I heard repeated.
Honesty is Honorable
Over the years, there were some heated discussions surrounding certain people, places and processes. Throughout it all, I attempted to gently tell the truth. And this is one thing clients said they liked. Even when the news was bad, I was never afraid to be honest under pressure.
At one point, there were moments and discussions that tested my limits. Imagine having facts in front you indicating there is a serious issue only to have someone call you a liar. This can be very disheartening, especially when you are operating objectively in the best interest of the organization. Thankfully I was raised by some wise people who told me that time always had a way of telling the truth. So I stuck to the truth. And eventually the truth was exposed and several individuals apologized for shooting the messenger.
Empathy Creates Engagement
I have never considered myself as overly empathetic at work. In past I believed there was always a strict line not to be crossed between work and personal. The last 10 years have taught me that there is a line and that sometimes it is okay (or even necessary) to tip toe up to it, step on, and even cross it occasionally. Your fellow co-workers are human. And these humans have hearts that sometimes need to be tended to.
I got to know one client pretty well because our children had similar bad experiences at a childcare center. After that, contacting her at work about audit issues was a breeze. Another client (friend) recently passed from cancer. Prior to that, she beat it twice. My sister in law had similar battles. So we would talk about her battle and I could relate. She was the most upbeat and friendly person on the planet. Talking to her was a breeze. She actually helped me navigate graduate school. Then there was the audit client who inherited a mess. He wanted us to review the area so that he would know how bad if really was. Having inherited a mess once or twice in MY career, I could relate. Understanding his position made for much better relationship.
In each of these situations, I believe audit client engagement was enhanced by the empathetic interactions.
Kindness is Contagious
I like people. I like to see people smiling. I like to smile and laugh and joke. In the past, I would conceal this side at work. I thought work meant being serious all the time. Now I realize, if we cannot laugh at the place we spend a majority of our time, something is wrong.
And no one deserves to be treated mean when they make mistakes. Even if they are not cut out for a job, they still deserve common courtesy and decency. I remember terminating an employee because he was not a good fit. Surprisingly, he thanked me. He explained that I was kind and honest during the process. He also admitted that his heart was not in the job and now he was forced to find something he really liked. I had no idea of his thoughts, but I knew that his inability to perform should in no way affect the way I treated him as a person and employee.
If we treat our audit clients with kindness, they are more receptive to the audit process.
I’ve been an auditor for a long time. I’ve occasionally failed and sometimes succeeded. Through it all, I’ve had decent relationships with most audit clients. Technical auditing skills are extremely important, but to truly be successful we must hone in on the human side of our profession. My wonderful clients have taught me that honesty is honorable, empathy creates engagement, and kindness is contagious. So the one piece of advice I can offer is this. Whether communicating with good clients or dealing with difficult ones be honest, be caring and be kind.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for your emails (I get a lot and I do respond). I learn so much from each of you when you mail and comment (yes you can comment below. Some thought the function disappeared. It’s there. You can log in with your Linkedin account too).
If you need a speaker for your local IIA chapter, a trainer for your audit department or someone to talk to your management team, contact me. Let me know your thoughts.
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