So HM the Queen this week celebrates becoming the longest reigning UK (English, Welsh Irish and Scottish – does it still include France?) monarch in history. This is no mean feat. Such a period of service and stability for a nation is a real achievement. All the more so because polling suggests she is still loved and is popular amongst her people.
The role of the monarch according to the official website is that the Queen has the right ‘to be consulted, to encourage and to warn’ her ministers via regular audiences with the Prime Minister. She is an executive head of state but her powers are limited and are used sparingly. I suspect only the slower hand of history will provide a real insight into how much power she has exercised during her reign. There has been much commentary on the monarchy, including some that has said that she is the last in her line of monarchs, with the real challenge being at the end of her reign. These commentators suggest that the UK public will, at the end of her reign, spontaneously demand the end of the monarchy. Now no-one is pretending that a monarchy is not a historical anachronism, but if one wants to contemplate ending something then there must be an alternative promulgated and this is where the republican argument goes silent. What do they want? President Blair? President Brown? President Cameron? Hmmm.
For me the real benefit of the monarchy is its ability to be above politics. A lesson Queen Elizabeth’s successors should note. In this I think of HM Queen as a third line of defence in the UK political system. She is both part of the system, is recognised as a valuable and valid part of it, yet somehow detached from it. This gives her views power, insight, import and value. There is nothing to be gained and lost by HM Queen when she comments on an issue or gives advice. In this I imagine she acts a mentor to the many prime ministers she as worked with.
Internal audit has some of these elements. Being above the executive management fray and having quiet and informal access to the board and chief executive should provide a platform for internal audit to provide advice, support and guidance way beyond the formal and public audit reports it produces. For surely a quiet independent word, judiciously selected, should have impact disproportionate to its cost and effort.
A good CAE should also use this power wisely. Picking up on the latest organisational spat or trend is not helpful, but having some more strategic and helpful insights is. For engaging in local organisational politics, as it would for HM the Queen, is unseemly and detracts from the organisational position internal audit occupies.
Much like HM the Queen, internal audit should be about the ‘organisational commonwealth’, not concerned with one sectoral interest or another. So whilst it is tempting for internal audit to be supporting the latest fads or trends, perhaps it is internal audit’s role to put these in a longer, longitudinal, trends. It has been said the HM the Queen’s old fashioned outlook, dress and values are beneficial. I think this is probably true. Her look, immaculate and well crafted, is a brand and a positioning of strength for the monarchy. So should CAEs dress similarly? No – but I do think considering a brand and its values is important. Values of ethical probity, a 100 percent commitment to independence, and a commitment to being balanced, fair and fully objective in its views. These are the old fashioned values that internal audit could use in its branding.
So, in my view internal audit has lots of characteristics of a good monarchy. I also think, much like monarchy, really good internal audit is a British thing. It requires a sense of pragmatism, principles based thinking and a good deal of contingent thinking. Just like monarchy internal audit should flex and move with the times, but also balance this against timeless values of ethics, standards, probity and a commitment to the very best it can be.
So how is your royal wave?