There's real value in managing your individual brand as an internal auditor

Whether we know it or not, as internal audit professionals we all have a brand.

Chief audit executives may have a more established brand, while upwardly mobile internal auditors are likely still working to establish their brands. We may have created it haphazardly through actions that others interpret or painstakingly built it through a structured process. Either way, this brand, like all brands, conveys a lot of information about us—positive and negative—can be easily damaged, takes a long time to build, and is a critical component of how others perceive us, including the person on the other side of the desk at your next job interview.

As an auditor, and even more so as a CAE, it is important that we do not let others mold our brands for us. This is especially true today where we find our profession transitioning from a traditional regulatory-based approach of auditing to a risk-based audit process. While there is room for both approaches in today's internal audit environment it is difficult to master both. Developing your brand, linking it to your career choices, and letting your team know why you are who you are will go a long way to achieving success for you and your team.

This transition from a traditional audit approach to a more risk-centric approach may impact the personal brands of those who make the transition and those who don't. For example, I am a risk-based auditor. I would not do well if I was tied to only performing regulatory compliance or accounting type audits. Those are very valuable but they are not for me.

When I changed jobs during the past few years I made only one mistake: I took on a job at a company that wanted risk-based auditing but under the surface was really only comfortable with traditional audit practices. The engagement did not last long. In retrospect I had only myself to blame for the short tenure, because I did not explain what I was all about. I did not share with them my brand as I see it. Today, during any discussion about potential career opportunities, writing assignments, training I develop, or in my speeches at conventions, I let people know my brand and what it means. As a result I have walked away from several opportunities that might have been a lot of fun but did not fit my personal brand.

Steps to Brand Development
So how can we cultivate our personal brand so that it best suits us and reflects our capabilities and goals? To answer that questions an internal auditor needs to focus on him or herself, gain experience and learn from that experience, and make conscientious decisions that define their brands. There should be no hesitation in personal branding because ultimately we all sell our services. In audit, those services have lasting implications, so one could argue that knowing our brand and being transparent in reflecting it is a required part of our business ethos. For those who struggle with recognizing their brand, try the following few steps:

  • Set aside some time for reflective contemplation—this should be undisturbed time spent alone to think through and even meditate on what you are about to do.
  • Gather all printed feedback from your peers, employers, and others that you have received over the past few years. Include any personal notes you may have made during difficult times, successful adventures, or setbacks.
  • Find and select someone to act as your branding guide. This person can be a sounding board that will support your efforts, provide counsel, and be objective. Sharing the brand-building exercise with someone solidifies the effort and adds responsibility to it.
  • Gather more information by talking with a few select peers and co-workers. Focus on how you and others behave in certain situations, not on strengths and weaknesses.
  • Create a matrix and document the feedback in terms of attributes so that you can see exactly how people are branding you today (attributes are the characteristics that belong to an individual).
  • Segment the attributes into common behaviors.
  • Set aside this matrix for a week or two.
  • Next, in a separate exercise, write down what you think you want your brand to represent. If you are a risk-based auditor then define what risk based means and what attributes are required to excel at that type of auditing. If you are a regulation and compliance based auditor then define the attributes required to succeed on that side of the equation.
  • Compare what you want your brand to be with what others have indicated your brand really is.
  • Create a work plan to address the gaps, include milestones that signify changes in behavior, and establish real target dates.
  • Celebrate your victories early and often.
  • Finally, repeat this process as often as required.

Difficult but Necessary
As auditors, we may not think that personal branding is important. Yet it is crucial. Auditors who excel are consistent in practice and can be relied upon by management. There should be no doubt, how management relies on the auditor is that auditor's brand.

Branding is not an easy exercise to get it right. There may be some mistakes made along the way, but it is important that each individual auditor develop, understand, and enrich their personal brand. If not, just like death and taxes, it is inevitable that someone out there will create your brand for you.

Don't let that happen!