My current secret television favourite at the moment is the Great British Bake Off (#GBBO). I say secret as it has a slightly nerdy (US – geeky) feel about it and is a like I should perhaps be conscious of. For my international readers this is a cooking programme on BBC television where various amateur cooks or bakers compete in a competition in rounds. Each week after each round a baker is sent packing and another is crowned ‘star baker’; and eventually a winner will be decided. Each round involves a theme of baking, cakes, biscuits, breads etc and the contestants do a specified recipe, a ‘technical challenge’ and a ‘showstopper’ (a chance to show off).
Now aside from the fact that the show is curiously addictive in a very middle class, BBC radio 4 listener, British, manner the point of interest for me is the technical challenge. This normally involves something hideously fiendish to bake, but with very limited and basic instructions. The challenge appears to be in knowing the technical elements of the challenge (the fact that gluten strands need to be made longer, or the pastry thinner, or the temperature kept even etc) and then using professional judgement to execute the bake to the finest of margins.
This got me thinking about how the higher echelons of internal audit are just this technical challenge. That is, some technical knowledge about a subject, accompanied by some experience and practical judgement, with an overall technical and professional polish to deliver the final output, whilst under pressure from highly critical judges, is something I do as a CAE.
This sounds to me like key and set piece audits in the assurance plan, or times when the CAE needs to deal with challenging or sensitive audits. How often, I thought whilst watching the baking of teacakes (marshmallow (US – fluff) and chocolate covered digestive biscuits) that I work without a clear view of the output, having never made or undertaken the work before, and without a helpful set of guidance or a recipe, yet am expected to produce an output that meets the diverse and exacting standards of my stakeholders or competition judges.
This, for me, differentiates the role of a CAE from an auditor. As an auditor I could request and require guidance. I could be allowed to get things wrong, I was able to learn in the protected environment created by my then CAEs. Indeed when I was growing up professionally little was expected of internal audit and it delivered just that. It was a rule-based, compliance, activity following recipes to the letter.
Now as I and the profession have matured, so the recipes of the past seem no longer to be relevant or prevalent in the work I do now. Strange though, the love of baking shown by the GBBO contestants seems to match my love of internal audit. It is much more rewarding as a professional and a human, in my view, to have the creative space to take and make professional judgements. Done right, these can really deliver perfect audit ‘bakes’.