How to Audit Yourself: Building on your Audit and People Skills
To be a successful auditor there are skills you need that go beyond the technical expertise and necessary soft skills. Being able to self-audit on a regular basis to keep yourself accountable as well as remembering that part of your job means dealing with human beings are equally important.
Working in audit effectively translates to having highly attuned skills for evaluating others and the many elements of their business operation. However, while evaluation is easy to dish out, it’s necessary to be able to take it yourself. Auditors with the ability to be self-reflective about their audit skillset and long-term career goals are far more likely to progress further and faster simply by having that awareness. Routinely checking in to assess the areas where you need to improve, areas of weakness and things you can do to push yourself into situations designed to enhance your career will undoubtedly help your professional growth.
By paying more attention to yourself as an auditor, the idea also would be that you have a greater awareness and appreciation for those you are auditing.
Understanding the way you audit will help you refine this ‘human touch’ aspect that is so important in maintaining a good and effective relationship with the businesses you’re working with, whether from an internal audit perspective or as an external auditor. Being audited is not necessarily a pleasant experience and if you’re the type of auditor who wants to police your clients or business in a very clinical fashion and really only sees things in black and white as you go round underlining all the things they are doing wrong, that is going to foster a negative relationship. This type of auditor finds it hard to build trust with their clients and is only looking at the situation at face value rather than assessing it within the wider business context.
On the other side of the scale are auditors who will approach an engagement with acute arrogance, unwilling to listen to the auditee who is likely well-versed in the complex topics at hand. These are the auditors that follow a one-size-fits-all approach because they’ve read up on the theory for carrying out audits and refuse to accept the need for practical application. Without forming a relationship with the auditee and asking questions it is impossible to collect the necessary information to conduct a thorough audit. It is key to respect your auditees as subject matter experts and aim to learn from them rather than assume that your audit certification means you know it all.
So, what kind of auditor is the one who will be successful? They are an auditor who works to build a strong relationship with the people they audit and views the process as collaborative as they unite to create more effective processes and controls. This is also where the importance of self-audit comes in because the fundamental concept here is to conduct a self-audit and an actual audit in the same manner, i.e. audit others as you would want to be audited yourself. Putting yourself into your auditee’s shoes will make the whole process run a lot smoother and produce a far more valuable outcome.
One of the ways auditors can automatically make a good impression with their auditees is to replace the technical jargon of their profession with clear explanations of how the audit process will occur. Having a meeting at the start of an audit in which you can set out the timeline of events and ensure everyone involved understands what is expected of them and how they’re comfortable proceeding will ensure a clear path ahead. If you set the tone by fostering trust and clarity from the start that is how the rest of the engagement should play out.
Be an active listener. Only then will you gain a true understanding of the business context of the audit and avoid presenting findings at odds with the real issues affecting the organisation. Your goal is to add value, not cause further frustration, and the latter will only discredit you as an auditor and by proxy your firm.
Another important point is to follow the correct chain of command when it comes to presenting your findings. Don’t go over the heads of the department you’re auditing to their supervisors, as by doing this you’re negating any opportunity for them to validate the information you’ve compiled, which undermines the necessary collaborative relationship you should be nurturing. Rather seek to credit their contribution to the engagement instead, for example, acknowledging the issue they uncovered and the measures they are already undertaking to remedy it.
Lastly, don’t be precious about your darlings – something journalists are often told – if your auditee wants changes to the wording of your audit report, make them because the most important part of that report is not the words but the meaning. The business context must be the star. And don’t forget to say thank you, showing your appreciation for what your auditees are bringing to the table, even if it’s something like buying their morning coffee will go a long way in establishing a productive relationship.