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I had a chat to my mentor this week. Having a mentor is fantastic, someone who can really challenge your perspective and give a completely objective view. As a CAE I think it’s necessary. Being a CAE can be a lonely role in any organisation and my mentor, being a world class CAE herself, is really able to understand how I, as a CAE, can feel sometimes.

The challenge this week was to consider career development, mine for a change, as I spend a lot of time thinking about the careers of my audit team, both to ensure that they are being challenged, but supported, and that there are suitable career steps for them (and for my department to ensure it has enough talent pipeline to manage the exigencies of modern organisational delivery).

I have tended to stay in my roles for a reasonable period of time, normally 6-8 years so far (I am always nervous of the two year mover – they never have to live with their work or decisions). This had made more sense as, when I was first a CAE in my own right, I was young for the role (29) and had lots to learn about management, audit methodology, auditing itself, corporate organisations and general technical stuff, and all that quite aside from the interest of learning a new organisation and its business.  Yet now I am older I have the technical stuff (though every day is still a school day) and I have a strong and demonstrable record of management and audit management in a global context and at scale. Yet as I get older I find the ‘newness’ in roles becomes less.

One of the great career boosting things about internal audit is that you can cover a whole organisation and never really have an ‘adult career’ being stuck in one part of an organisation. This ‘Peter Pan’ ability to look at everything as and when the fancy takes me (being CAE has some freedoms as well as a lot of pressure and limitations) suits me. I have a short attention span and like solving problems. Once solved, I like to move onto the next thing. [Just for the record that does not mean I don’t see things through or have a forensic eye for detail when needed (for any potential recruiters reading this) but that my natural style is inquisitive.] I think that’s why I loved doing my MBA so much. This ability to reinvent roles and the ability add things (non executive roles, charitable roles, study, representation in organisational groups etc) has meant that I have been able to change roles relatively infrequently, whilst actually varying my role quite significantly in post.

I have now added counter fraud at scale as a significant element to my current role and this has been a new area of interest and development for me. There is little technical and established practice out there, with counter fraud work being relatively (compared to internal audit) immature. So it has given me a chance to invent the wheel and work out what works best.

Yet I do feel, as I become more senior, a pressure to take on new roles with more frequency. Each time I do this, I seem to have the same challenge; that of turnaround. I seem to find each audit department I take on needs to establish itself in the business, release the talent of the current staff, add talent from new staff and structure, improve its methodology, improve its client organisation’s risk management, and generally improve to be business relevant. Internal audit done well, I believe, is a must have for competitive and delivery advantage for any organisation. It just makes sense from a CEO and governance perspective.

So am I a turnaround specialist? Should I only be happy when reforming and enhancing a department, or can I take pleasure, challenge and satisfaction from running a good department as well? As the turnaround task becomes easier with practice, perhaps my lifecycle of role satisfaction is decreasing.

I think all of the greatest internal auditors are ‘architects’ (a term helpfully provided to me by my current deputy). What do we mean by this? Well it is the ability to set or identify strategic objectives, then diagnose the problem, identify the broad principles of a solution, and finally to put in place a set of coherent actions to deliver this. Architects need the ability to envisage (or envision if you’re American) something that is not there. This is not just an internal audit skill at a leadership level, it is one each internal auditor should have at each level. Auditing what is there is easy, auditing what is not and what should be, is much harder. I think it is that ability and emphasis that marks out internal audit as a profession from our management and other professional colleagues.

So in my CAE role I do act as an architect, in every paper, audit report, technical and risk challenge I face. Thinking about blank pages and filling them is tiring however, and I am lucky that I have a team with lots of this capability itself. Perhaps it is doing this stuff that keeps me challenged and interested?

So perhaps the challenge is to find enough building in my role to keep me interested, for once a building is built, it requires little architectural input. Internal audit as a profession is one that, uniquely, has significant capacity to challenge and develop, so I feel sure that this is possible.

So what have you built lately?