Internal auditors have this inspiring (and maybe a tad odd) passion for internal audit. Some of the passion stems from the mechanics of auditing. But audit is also deeply fulfilling in a myriad of behaviors. Cultivating friendships, learning hard work and commitment, resolving conflict, having a sense of humor, and engaging in teamwork are just a few life principles that can flourish on an effective audit team.
“Having been in the ‘business’ of auditing for over 10 years now across multiple sectors,” recounts You Li of Population Services International (PSI), “I can honestly say that I’ve always found the key to a successful audit engagement has always been my team. Whether that’s at the planning stage or setting up logistics or perhaps at the end of an audit when the clients are arguing over each and every finding, a close-knit team has always managed to get over that final hurdle. This holds true in all sectors but especially in professional service where the fast-paced environment and commitment for exceptional customer service means that the lack of a committed group of individuals will often end in negatively.”
I asked You Li to discuss some qualities world-class audit teams possess. Perhaps all these qualities are alive and spinning on your team right now. Or maybe the following will touch upon qualities worth recommitting to on your audit team.
Your team understands the technical side of audit
It almost goes without saying, but auditors should have a good grasp of how to audit, discover findings, spot trends or patterns, and how to report on the findings. Many of these skills can be learned. Maybe the definition of internal auditor should be expanded to include more technical diversity. One auditor points out, “nowhere in the IIA definition of internal audit does it say compliance and nowhere does it say finance. [Internal Audit] is an independent assurance and consulting function.”
In other words, think smart when looking for auditors – they don’t have to come from finance. For example, auditors with marketing or IT backgrounds will approach auditing differently as well.
Auditor tip: “When I grow up, I want to be an auditor!” said no one ever. In some ways, auditors are all newcomers who once upon a time diverged from the original path to become an internal auditor. If a person possesses additional qualities (like those mentioned below in this article), then audit skills can be taught.
Your team builds relationships both internally and externally
You Li makes the point that “audit as a profession, is not only part technical but part relationship building as well.
“In most cases, technical superiority will only get you so far up the corporate ladder,” says You Li. “To make it all the way, the common auditor needs to ditch the perception of being a green- and red-pen-holding bean counter and charm the heck out of your clients.
“At the end of the day, we’re working with people: people with different cultural backgrounds, ethical values, and certainly different work practices. We’re not only building relationships with our clients, but we’re also building relationships with each other.”
Auditor tip: Focus on one another’s strengths – both with the audit team and audit client. Take note of one person’s strength today and share a specific time when you saw them use that strength. Let them know you admire how they’ve handled specific situations.
Your team listens and takes other’s opinions seriously
Rather intentional or not, sometimes we think our way is the only way. And that just isn’t true.
“Over the years,” comments You Li, “I’ve always found that the best teams I’ve worked with are those made up of people with similar values of commitment and work practices.” You Li also emphasizes the importance of mutual respect, regardless of position, and how his favorite teams are those with people who, “listen and are open to constructive criticism,” and have a, “a desire to take other’s opinions seriously.”
Emphasizing horizontal leadership, rather than vertical leadership, can level the playing field and create an environment where everyone feels like they can contribute.
Auditor tip: Valuing others comes not only from a core belief that we can learn from each other but also in the tone and words we use. A common rule is to communicate more positive than negative comments. There’s more than one way to say you like or dislike someone’s idea – so be compassionate and interested in the other person. Audit is a surprisingly personal profession.
Your team meets deadlines
By nature, audit is fast-paced. In the field, you’re trying to review information quickly. Once findings are discovered, the audit report needs to be released sooner than later. Because the audit builds upon itself, deadlines are important.
“In the world of professional service,” says You Li, “time is money and money means progression (or lack thereof). The responsibilities of managing a client account usually don’t give you luxury of time. Everyone needs something and it’s always urgent.”
For You Li, his team works hard to meet deadlines. “I can trust that those reporting to me will provide me with the right information timely and in turn, I can pass that up the chain and eventually to the client. Deadlines are met, supervisors are happy, company is paid, and the team works like a well-oiled machine rolling over to the next engagement.”
Auditor tip: Define areas where the team can recommit to meeting deadlines. Similarly, create a flowchart of an audit process, and circle areas where deadlines could improve.
Your team enjoys being together because they’re together... a lot!
Team dynamics play an even more vital role when the engagements require extensive travel.
You Li admits, “It has always been hard leaving my family behind while I work overseas for a few weeks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to get any easier with time. However, I’ve always found solace in knowing that I’ll be working with a group of like-minded colleagues who share a similar commitment. Work is tough and working in culturally different environments with potential security concerns is even tougher. Fortunately, I work with a good team that shares mutual trust and respect. It makes the job slightly easier.”
You Li recounts the importance of a team that enjoys one another. “In a highly pressurized environment, it’s always good to be able to relax and let your guard down for a bit over the weekend, perhaps exploring a new city together or trying out the local delicacies (pointing to silkworms in Hanoi, raw beef in Addis Ababa, and frogs in Phnom Penh). Those small things that most of us take for granted when travelling for vacation can make a world of difference and allow you (and your colleagues) to re-focus for the week ahead.”
Auditor tip: Auditors are people too and enjoy having some fun to break up the weeks in the field.
A world-class audit team is a confluence of intelligence, acceptance, positive vibes, hard work, integrity, and mutual respect. Audit is fun because it’s something new every day. Hopefully, audit is also fun because you get to explore something new with people you like.
“Ultimately,” summarizes You Li, “I find that the thing that drives me to answer emails or phone calls at 11pm at night, send out updates over the weekend, squeeze in one more hour at the airport while waiting to catch my next red-eye flight, and sneak around in the morning during family vacations to answer just one last email is not because I love my job (but I do, I really do love my job…it’s audit after all) It’s because I respect my supervisor and my peers and I don’t want them to waste their own time waiting for my response or input.”
Interested in learning more about this topic? Mark your calendars for our upcoming virtual training event titled "High-Impact Skills for Developing and Leading Your Audit Team."
You Li is currently working as a Senior Global Internal Audit Advisor for Population Services International, an international NGO based out of Washington D.C. Prior to this role, You Li worked in public accounting in Melbourne, Australia.