So I have been at my client and host organisation’s two day leadership conference. My client and host organisation is high performing, and full of bright and capable leaders. I am always reticent to go to these events, however. Not because I am shy or retiring (I consistently score an ENTJ on Myers Brigg’s assessments), but because I still have this sense that internal audit should be independent of management.
This got me thinking. I’ve been invited to the event because my top management group see internal audit as a valuable corporate function as like any other corporate function. The director of HR, Director of IT, Director of Operations etc were all there. It is true that I am not close knit with either the corporate business functions or the core business functions. As a community they have a lot of common thoughts, challenges, and experience they share, and they form a close knit community. As an international organisation it is often one of the few times the whole leadership is in one geographic location. So perhaps my isolation is because I do work to one side of the business and they really do need these leadership events to share, form a community and jointly learn. It is one of the few times they see across the business, I forget this, as from my vantage point I see across the business all year.
Yet, whilst internal audit’s isolation can be understood for theoretical and practical reasons, the audit function is relevant to the leadership discussions, and we were mentioned in despatches throughout the two days. Some to comment on their last audit (both positively and negatively), others to seek out an audit (yes that does happen!), some to discuss current audit and counter fraud issue of the day. So if the audit function is relevant, why does it still feel uncomfortable for me? I guess because I always feel I am intruding, sometimes into private grief, sometimes private joy. Perhaps this is a good thing that the business does see internal audit as separate and different?
Having had great conversations about risk management, counter fraud measures, general quality assurance and other assurance- related elements together over the two days, I know internal audit is a relevant function. Perhaps I need to turn the question around – why would your chief assurance and counter fraud officer not be in the room? I may be in the governance strata of the organisation or third line, but this does not make me any less a part of the ‘team’, albeit a slightly different one.
I guess it all comes down to your model of internal audit. If you see audit as a competitive them and us, and you see the world as right and wrong, and perceive independence to mean a lack of engagement, then I should be both uncomfortable and remove myself from the position. Yet I feel part of the team, I think I am there to stand full square with my management colleagues to help, in my independent way, the organisation and them to face and manage the challenges and risks they face. I don’t see the relationship as one of conflict or competition. I certainly don’t see audit as right or wrong.
Yes I do feel independent, I do feel as if I can be part of something in an independent manner. I don’t buy the old school internal audit locked away and not being part of the team. I do buy fierce independence, but independence of action and thought, not silly structural or procedural independence. For it is that very dependence on our client organisations that gives us a good understanding of the clients we work with, and the opportunity to add value to the business in a range of ways.
So will I still feel awkward at other meetings or this same meeting next year? perhaps, just a little, but I hope that my colleagues will understand and value the independence as expressed by this awkwardness, this provides to my work and the different perspective it brings. For that reason I hope I will be valued enough by colleagues to continue to have airtime and presence at management events.