UnknownSo what makes an excellent internal auditor or audit team? I feel as if I know what does, but can only see it when I see it. Today four interventions have inspired me to put this into words.

The first intervention was the mention of common sense. Common sense is a misnomer. There is, in my experience, nothing common about it. It is something that cannot be taught, but once present, is there. I think internal auditors have it in greater incidence than other professions that I see. The only comparable incidence level is in senior management based upon my time in audit. Perhaps common sense is in fact born from a breadth of experiences and a constant requirement to consider and adjust in a contingent way to events. This is something senior management and internal auditors are required to do daily. As it was put to me, ‘some people think that there is a magical set of technical skills when in fact there is not’. I have never believed in technical ability (context independent knowledge) above practical and contextual knowledge (skills and context dependent knowledge). I believe you must combine both to be effective.

The second intervention was the realisation that a good internal auditor moves beyond reporting symptoms, but diagnoses the root cause or malady. It is this moving beyond ordering risk and issue observations (by whatever complex method) but moving into linking these into a cohesive argument and narrative. This conclusion needs to be risk-based of course. What do I mean by this? Well describing and summarising the key and root problem (or strengths of the area under review) into a recognisable ‘human’ description and narrative.

The third intervention was the recognition that all internal audit opinions are strengthened by a team willing to constructively challenge and review each other’s work. This is not the boss or manager ‘reviewing’ a file in a hot, cold or any other way. It is genuinely working together in teams to challenge each other’s opinions and analysis with no win or loss, but a sense of joint inquiry for the most truthful narrative about the area under review. This, in my view, should not be hierarchically driven, but encouraging all members of an audit team to develop the confidence and ability to form and challenge their own and other’s opinions.

The final intervention was from the world of my academic supervision and study. A realisation that the social world is complex and that a recognisable common sense and ‘human’ answer in a social science world is important. Yes models and technical constructs are important, but if they do not make sense, common sense, their application and use is limited.

In a world obsessed with technocratic division of labour and specialisation, perhaps good internal audit should take a leaf out of good management’s books and apply a hefty dose of human, common, sense.