What could possibly be scarier than a zombie apocalypse? Learning you’re about to get audited.

But internal audit is a whole different beast, you say. You’re not really auditing so much as... consultants! Still, the term “audit” takes on a negative connotation for your audit client.

Put yourself in your audit client’s shoes: You’re in the field. You’re a manager. You’re a process owner. You have a lot on your plate. You work hard. You want to keep your job. And you don’t want anyone coming in and telling you what to do differently.

Then you get an email that you’re on the internal audit bucket list for the year, and a mild expletive escapes your lips. As the audit client, you might be thinking,

  • “This is going to take up more of my time than I want.”
  • “I fail to see how this is going to be beneficial to me.”
  • “You’re from corporate, and I don’t trust you.”
  • “I know more about this business than you do.”
  • “This kid with their checklist has no idea what I do.”

Already from the get-go, an audit is a sore case of unrequited love between auditor and audit client.

Change is hard no matter what. We’re more apt to change when we’ve made the rules. When we’re forced to change – like being subjected to an audit – that’s a large horse pill to swallow. But there are things that auditors can do to make that horse pill go down smoother.

Let’s look at a few tactics auditors can employ to ease the audit fieldwork burden for the audit client.

Prepare ahead of time

Prepare at least a month in advance of the kick-off meeting. If you’re new to audit, find someone in the group who knows who you’ll be auditing. Ask about the managers and personalities on the team you’ll be auditing. Get on your audit client’s schedule early. Send an email, introduce yourself, and schedule the meeting.

Think up front what a timeline is supposed to look like for the audit. Sometimes as an auditor, you can jump right over the people-person stuff and dive right into the testing. But failing to plan properly and communicate with the audit client can bite you in the end. “If we don’t allow enough time for planning,” says an experienced auditor with more than 20 years experience, “we can end up spending more time on lower risk areas when we should be spending more time on higher risk areas.”

As you schedule in advance, you show your audit client that you value their time. In return, the audit client has some time for the idea to soak in that an audit is coming and they’ll be ready for it and maybe more amenable to helping.

Provide good coaching to your new auditors

Sending young, unseasoned auditors out alone – due to budget constraints or an uptick in audits or any other reason – could backfire. Make sure junior auditors have what they need to be successful. They might not even know what they need to know, so if you’re an experienced auditor, try to remember what it was like to be that new auditor and give them the support they need. Think about the business they will be going into, and set them up for success.

“Too often we send the kid out to the werewolves before they know what they’re doing,” says another auditor. “We send an inexperienced auditor out to do something when they’re not ready for it. Their only source of information may be what was done previously.”

It’s important to prep your junior auditors to not just come with a checklist but to know why they are checking those items on the list. And then explain to the audit client why we have this checklist, what each piece means to them, and what those checklist items mean in relation to the overall health of the company.  Experienced auditors – help your new auditors by making introductions ahead of time. And new auditors – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask around and find out if your coworkers have worked in these businesses and know specific people.

Being human with other humans will always make the work more rewarding.

Set expectation with the audit client

That entrance meeting (the kick-off meeting) can set the tone for the audit – good or bad. Use your time wisely leading up to and during this meeting. By the time the kick-off meeting begins, you should already have at least a month of planning under your belt and have specific goals to share. Share what you know with your audit client about what to expect.

Transparency alleviates the fear of the unknown for the client. A consistent trust builder for audit teams is showing the final audit report. Such a simple thing to do, but not enough audit teams do it.

“Especially the first time, share with the audit client what the report will look like and who will receive it,” says Alec Arons, VP National Practice Leader at Advisory Services. “The audit customer becomes a whole lot more cooperative once you share what a report looks like. Armed with that knowledge, the report goes smoother. Because right up front, you explain why you’re there, what you’ll do, what the report looks like, who receives it, and ask if they have any specific additional concerns while you’re out there.”

In addition, take time to explain that recommendations will be scaled to the needs of the operation from a time and cost perspective. Then, stick to the commitment of recommending solutions that will not only resolve root causes and help the company as a whole but will be doable for the audit client.

Remember to keep the audit client in sight as you go forward together to improve the business (then they’ll want to retract all the nasty things they said about you in the beginning).

We hope your next audit will be a bit more successful – and a little less apocalyptic – for everyone. Happy auditing!