Is your internal audit plan working at cross purposes with your company strategy? Missed communication opportunities may make it appear that way. I was drawn to that observation in Aligning Internal Audit: Are You on the Right Floor? a new PwC white paper that suggests that the role of internal auditors is changing as stakeholders increasingly appreciate their risk management contributions.
Internal auditors add value to their companies by identifying risks as business strategies evolve. That value is diminished if they’re unaware of key decisions taken on the top floor. The objective of a program audit will change if, for example, the company is divesting itself of the program. Bottom line? Seeking strategy intel is vital to earning respect for internal auditors.
Communication style is the other key to helping execs view internal auditors as team players. When reporting results, consider the audience. That means headlining findings for top brass. All the gnarly details should be readily available for anyone who wants to wade through them, but spend your face time (or devote your report cover memo to) identifying the items of concern and your recommendations for dealing with them.
Internal auditors typically have access to all areas of their company. That perspective means that occasionally you’ll have good news to share—for example, efficiencies that can be implemented. The tone with which you communicate this information is just as important as the tone you take in delivering news about potential risks. Buy-in for your suggestions has a lot to do with the way they’re delivered.
Like tone, timing is crucial to maintaining trust with the rest of the company. If you want your audience to become defensive and view you as an adversary, just try springing all your concerns at the end of an audit. As a general rule, keeping business owners and execs informed as you find issues makes for a relationship of respect. No one wants to be blindsided by a problem with no corrective plan in sight.
Finally, weigh your communication options. You may have noticed, as I have, that voice inflections don’t register in digital formats, so sending an email may not always be the best choice. Sometimes picking up the phone or meeting face-to-face enhances communication, and improving the lines of communication within your company is a key step in identifying the risks it faces.