Fusion – of ideas, practices and knowledge – is a critical issue for Paul Manning, the president of the Chartered IIA. This is apt, given that he is also director of the Office of Internal Oversight Services at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“The most important issue for me this year is creating opportunities for more involvement from our members, and the most productive exchanges between members and the institute,” he explains. “Whatever the challenges your organisation is facing, and whatever questions your team is being asked, someone else in the auditing world will probably be dealing with something similar. So it’s vital that we can draw on each other’s expertise, experiences and perspectives. If we can improve the way we generate and exchange knowledge and make this work better for everyone, it will be a real indicator of success.”
Manning is a keen proponent of breaking down the barriers that prevent people exchanging knowledge, and of diversity – something he presumably knows a bit about, given that he has worked across challenging environments from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe via Somalia, Syria and North Korea, and was employed by the UN in New York before moving to his current role in Vienna. Internal audit is a people-centred profession, he points out, and this is one of the things that make it exciting – and fun.
Fun may not be the first thing people think of when asked about a career in internal audit, but Manning thinks it should be far higher on the list of attractions. “Every day is different,” he points out. “And the whole purpose of what we do is working with others to improve the way that organisations are run. Internal auditors are often the only people apart from the CEO who get to see the entire business from end to end and can use that perspective to make a difference. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning.”
This is an important message because internal audit’s value to organisations in future is going to depend on auditors’ ability to use this unique vantage point to generate and communicate insights that will be critical to management decisions. Internal auditors, therefore, need to become better at recognising the critical information that managers need, spotting where their insights will have greatest impact, and expressing them at the crucial time and in the most appropriate way to ensure they are heard and acted upon.
Businesses and the environment in which they operate are changing fast, and it’s essential that internal auditors keep up with these changes and the opportunities and risks they create. These opportunities, Manning argues, are just as important as the risks. The broad, imaginative approach needed will be possible only if audit teams constantly update their skills and draw on the broadest range of views and perspectives – from other sectors, professions, cultures and backgrounds.
This is why Manning is delighted that the Chartered IIA is reaching out to universities and colleges to help create “pathways for future generations of internal auditors”. “We want to help the widest range of people understand about internal audit and the role auditors play, and encourage them to consider it as a career,” he says. “My own experience certainly shows how far internal audit can take you – professionally and geographically.”
Similarly, he is excited about the potential of the institute’s new Aspire community for junior auditors early in their careers and its Women in Internal Audit group, connecting women auditors across the profession.
“These are some of the ways we are encouraging greater diversity within the institute, and promoting wider participation and the exchange of the broadest range of views across the profession as a whole,” he explains. “How can we maximise our chances of seeing the risks and opportunities on the horizon if we don’t get together the best and most diverse group of people? If we’re going to try to tackle the blind spots of others in our organisations, we need first to ensure that we don’t have blind spots of our own.”
While a huge attraction of internal auditing is the ability to see across the whole organisation, and the fun of knowing that no two days will be the same, another should be the job’s potential to lead to other roles, Manning argues.
“I think the movement of people in and out of internal audit will continue to increase. It’s a great place to learn to look beyond organisational silos and this should put auditors in a strong position when it comes to moving into senior management roles,” he says.
“Some organisations already make a stint in internal audit an important part of their training and development programmes for senior managers and I’d like to see more of this – but it’s only going to be possible if we have something useful to say.”
Audit needs a seat at the top table to get its message across, but it first needs to show that its input is valuable. It’s a chicken and egg situation, and this puts the onus on internal auditors – and their institute – to come up with crucial insights, understand their stakeholders’ needs and demonstrate how they can help.
“If we show we can add value, then we will be in the room when the most important decisions are taken, and that’s where we should be,” Manning says. “We do not, and should not, make the decisions, as we must be careful not to prejudice our independence and objectivity. But it’s far better to be able to contribute our perspective at the right time in the process – and to be listened to – than it is to come in afterwards and criticise managers for getting it wrong. That helps no one.”
Manning is a passionate believer in the “transformational power” of internal audit to help organisations, communities and society as a whole. The speed with which technological change, in particular, is affecting all organisations, indicates the critical role that audit has to play in alerting management to potential threats and opportunities and ensuring that their organisation is flexible enough to respond quickly. “We need to see risk more in terms of the opportunities it presents and less as a downside of change. Internal auditors are in a great position to do this and to help managers to expect the unexpected,” he says. “Future successful businesses will be those that are best at identifying and leveraging the opportunities from change.”
But if internal auditors can’t influence effectively, they won’t change anything. Internal audit is all about relationships, he adds. “Building and sustaining these relationships comes down to whether your partners think it’s worth their while listening to you, so we need to be bold about saying what we think – and make sure we have insightful things to say.”
On a personal level, Manning intends to spend his year as president listening to as many members as possible to find out what they are doing in their organisations and what matters most to them, and helping them to share. “Internal audit doesn’t work in a vacuum – understanding what we need and what we and others are doing in practice is vital to our future development,” he says. He also wants to help the Chartered IIA reach out to major stakeholders such as audit committee chairs to help understand what they most need from their internal auditors.
“The institute needs to be a strong voice for the profession, shouting about what we can achieve together. As one of the keynote speakers at our recent annual conference said, we need to get away from the idea that auditing is dull: it definitely isn’t! What’s made it so fulfilling a career for me is the things I’ve seen, the people I’ve worked with and the opportunities to help organisations achieve the best outcomes they can. This is the truly transformational power of internal audit!”
This article was first published in Audit & Risk January/February 2019.