Internal audit can have an overridingly negative feel about it. The role of an auditor seems to be to find fault, to pick holes, to identify issues and problems. The colleague relationships that this work promotes are ones of suspicion, distrust and wariness. Report writing feels like an exercise in moaning; as most, if not all, internal audit reports I have ever read are exception reports (i.e the positive existence of controls is not reported, only those missing – one would hope in most organisations is it this way around).
Yet internal audit could be a liberating experience. It is the chance for often harassed and stressed managers to legitimately engage with a hopefully intelligent and helpful peer and third party. It is a chance for a manager to take time out to think about where they are, where they want to be, and to challenge, with external facilitation, the status quo.
For internal auditors it could be a positive experience. It is a chance to learn a new area of the business. To cross match a new and no doubt different organisational and business perspective to their accumulated knowledge and experience. As a CAE I have never stopped learning and experiencing new business challenges, operations and activities.
Yet how does one deliver and sell additional work, challenges to the received wisdom and new perspectives to clients that may not welcome such an approach? It is not easy. The less overlap (in a venn diagram manner) between the audit narrative and analysis of a business situation and the relevant manager’s view of it, the more difficult this challenge becomes.
There is another element to the positive v negative element. I have always found it more challenging to prove the negative in my audits. Proving the negative is really quite difficult and takes a lot more work than commenting on the positive or the existing. You can never be sure, as an auditor, that something is not done or is not present. Most organisations are disparate and complex and suffer from disjointed elements to varying degrees. It is always possible that some group or body has been looking at, and is addressing, the very issue the auditor thinks should be tackled, completely unbeknown to the auditor. As auditors all we can really do is look in the most logical places for something and, if not there, suggest that an action or process is not happening.
Yet I have been very lucky despite all of the negative influences present in my chosen career that I have had, in general, good and trustworthy relationships with the clients I have worked with. I believe auditors need to be straightforward, honest, consistent and, as far as possible, not personality and person-based in their work as possible. I have always believed that there should be a gap between an auditor’s personal opinions and professional opinions. What I personally think should have little bearing on my professional opinion, which should at all times, be based on facts, evidence and analysis.
This brings me back to the absence of things. The balance of analysis to evidence is somewhat offset where an auditor is pointing out the absence of things. It is in these areas that the auditor will need to use their professional opinion and judgement rather than hard evidence. It is these areas that inevitably require the CAE’s input and view.
Perhaps the real problem with positivity is that independent thinking does sometimes require unpopularity. Being ahead of the cultural or organisational politics curve is sometimes difficult and proposing new or challenging views will always carry with it a risk of negative responses.
I guess as an auditor one can hope for respect but never popularity. Don’t let that affect the positivity element though because internal audit can be a powerful force for good. As the song says ‘accentuate the positive’.