This is the second in Louise Fleming's series of three blogs focused on feedback in internal audit.
You have completed your audit work and need to start discussing your findings with management, or perhaps you have identified something outside the audit cycle that you think management should be aware of. Either way, you have something of value you want to share and the question is where do you start?
The answer is about six months ago. Sorry, this is not what you wanted to hear, but it is reality. If internal audit want to add value to the business, we need our views to be heard by business stakeholders. And if we want our views to be heard, we need to establish a certain level of trust. Building trust takes time.
You have to invest time to get to know your stakeholders:
An internal auditor’s role is about providing assurance, but as you get more senior in the organisation, increasingly time is spent building relationships and these relationships require investment outside the audit process.
If the feedback you wish to share with your stakeholder has the potential to be difficult, then however strong your relationships is, it is essential that you start the conversation by explicitly stating your shared purpose. For example: 'we both want to work in partnership to improve the control environment'. The tone needs to be ‘how do we address this together?’, not ‘I’ve got some bad news for you’ and yet at the same time we must avoid sugar coating the message.
When sharing feedback with stakeholders, always go armed with the facts. That is the raw facts, the testing that was completed, the data that was analysed, the results that were processed. These facts should be shared with your stakeholder objectively: try to remove any emotion from the way you communicate them. Let’s be clear, that does not mean remove any emotion from the conversation (we are trying to build a human connection), but avoid weighting the facts with our judgement of the outcome. If you can table the facts objectively, then you and your stakeholder can work together to interpret them.
It is important we pause and try to see the world from our stakeholder’s perspective. What are their priorities? As business leaders, our stakeholders are likely to be focused on managing client relationships, driving sales, improving profitability and leading their teams. We need to recognise that issues raised by internal audit might make them feel nervous, defensive, protective, or even inexplicably uneasy. We can combat this by empathising with them and working hard to see their view of the facts. The purpose of walking in our stakeholders shoes is not to undermine our independence, but to work together to get to the best outcome for the business.
Invest time and energy to build trust with your stakeholders: