I was once approached by a new Chief Audit Executive named Mary (name changed). She was concerned because she couldn’t get management to pay serious attention to the issues her team was identifying. Furthermore, the Audit Committee didn’t seem to have her back; they would downplay the importance of her findings and management typically was allowed to accept the risk for a majority of the issues her team presented. The Chairman of the Audit Committee had even overruled her on a report rating! She wanted me to help her learn to communicate more effectively so that management and the board would take her findings more seriously.
After some review and analysis, I determined that Mary did, in fact, have a communications issue but it was on the listening rather than the speaking/writing side of communications. Mary was consistently coming to management and the board with findings that were not very important for the company. Mary was NOT coming away from management meetings with a clear understanding of their priorities to drive her audit plan. My earlier blog post Where are your Auditors Spending their Time proposes an end-to-end risk assessment process that can help audit leaders (and did help Mary) address this concern. But Mary’s problem is a common one and communications skills (meaning writing better reports, etc.) routinely shows up as one of the most requested training sessions for auditors at all levels.
Most audit leaders obtain their position through a series of promotions, beginning as a Staff Auditor. At some point, they were rewarded by becoming an Auditor-in-Charge (AIC), then an Audit Manager, and Audit Director, and finally find themselves as Chief Audit Executive (CAE). Different companies use different titles, but the general progression is the same. As the auditor moves up in the department, their focus shifts from execution (nearly 100% of the most junior auditor’s activity) to planning (a majority of the CAE’s activity).
As auditors progress up the ranks, they are presumed to have learned some of the planning skills required for the next level through an apprentice-like system of observing their manager and gradually increasing their ability to think strategically and understand more of the why behind the audit activities.
This presumption appears not to be valid in most cases. Most auditors tend to be heads-down working on getting their processes mapped, controls identified, tests designed and executed, and reports written. They are fulfilling orders as quickly as their manager can hand them down. When are they supposed to be observing and gaining that skill set to prepare them for the next level?
The short answer is that successful audit departments go beyond “Introduction to auditing” training. The move from Staff Auditor to Auditor-in-Charge is substantial and requires supplemental training. Similarly, even the greatest AIC needs to spend time focused on acquiring the skills to be a good Audit Manager. And so on, up the chain.
Most audit departments aren’t large enough to justify holding a dedicated week-long training to prepare their AICs or Audit Managers, and virtually none can justify a session for their Directors or CAE.
Ramaley Group offers training for each of these steps, ranging from larger groups to 1:1 coaching as needed. Over the next few posts I will discuss the major topics in such trainings as we look at the learnings required to take your staff auditors up the ladder to CAE. Join me as we spend a few weeks helping Auditors become Audit Leaders! Next week we will start by looking at how audit leaders engage management at all levels.