4 Ways Chief Audit Executives Can Turn Internal Audit Into a Business Leader

Kezia Farnham

Change is the new status quo. With rapid shifts on all fronts, organizations need accurate data at their fingertips to make the right decisions at the right time. Though internal audit departments have the power to stop adverse risk events in their tracks, other members of the organization may not always regard them as the strategic leaders they truly are.

Strong relationships with internal departments and the board can change that. Chief audit executives (CAEs) can elevate the reputation of internal audit within the organization through clear expectations, clear communication and a clear vision.

Start turning your internal audit department into a strategic business leader with these four tactics:

1. Set Clear Priorities for Your Department

Internal audit departments should have a single true north. Though “mitigate risk” might feel like priority enough, being more specific can lead to better outcomes by encouraging teams to follow your lead. This will keep the internal audit department productive and make it easier to communicate the value of internal audit organization-wide.

To determine your priorities, start by forecasting. Consider not just topics that might arise in the future (think new risks or upcoming policies and regulations), but also the subsequent impact of recommendations you make now. Use predictive and real-time analytics to evaluate various scenarios so you can explain them with confidence to other departments and your executive board.

Next, evaluate your controls and compliance initiatives, ensuring you develop or revise processes to tackle your risk scenarios. This will allow you to give other departments the assurances they need to move forward with their priorities. You can then use the audit solutions you’ve developed as a framework to strategically optimize business processes and seek out root causes and trends.

Analyzing both individual issues and the bigger picture will make internal audit a true change agent for your organization.

2. Build a Relationship With Your Audit Committee Chair

The audit committee chair is your best not-so-secret weapon; this is the person who can go to bat for the internal audit department when you’re not present. As important as the audit committee chair is, nearly a quarter (22.8%) of CAEs said they speak to their chair only once per quarter, according to an IIA survey. Yet consider how much can change in three months.

Aim to meet with your audit committee chair at least once a month. Use this time to regroup on internal audit plans, especially if you’re experiencing ongoing change. This ensures that your audit committee chair will be up to date on your plans and familiar with the people behind them.

With this information in hand, the audit committee chair can effectively advocate for the value of internal audit within the organization. This advocacy is critical to ensuring your team’s seat at the decision-making table.

3. Elevate the Internal Audit “Brand”

Internal audit was once viewed as a behind-the-scenes team crunching numbers that didn’t always connect with business goals. Today, internal audit has a unique ability to anticipate and mitigate risks. Yet many CAEs aren’t effectively telling that story organization-wide.

Think of the internal audit department as a service provider whose clients are other departments within the organization. Your goal should be to build trust between internal audit and the rest of your organization. Every interaction is an opportunity to foster goodwill.

But that doesn’t mean you have to wait for other teams to add you to their agenda.

Instead, host internal webinars, distribute an email newsletter briefing the company on key insights from internal audit or build relationships with executives that might not otherwise cross paths with your department. The more insight you can give the organization into the value of your department, the better.

4. Incorporate the Right Technology

Technology alone isn’t a silver bullet. But once you have organization-wide relationships in place, technology can help internal audit take the next step towards being a trusted business partner.

Audit management technology checks your organization’s compliance boxes so your team can spend time developing strategic initiatives. Features like automated workflows, classifications and risk assessments can free up your team to focus on solutions that drive value for the entire organization.

Real-time analytics and simple, easy-to-read dashboards also make it easy to package your team’s work for everyone in your organization to view — even those who aren’t so tech savvy.

In Conclusion

In the face of rapid change, data-driven decision making is the only way forward. Internal audit departments can be a single source of truth, which is why these teams are crucial to the future of almost any organization. While a digital transformation can make data more readily available throughout the company, it’s organization-wide relationship building that can elevate internal audit’s reputation.

Download our eBook for more ways chief audit executives can become the strategic leaders their organizations need.

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Kezia Farnham Diligent
Content Strategy Manager
Kezia Farnham

Kezia Farnham is the Content Strategy Manager at Diligent. She's a University of the Arts London graduate who has enjoyed over seven years working across journalism, public relations and digital marketing, with a special focus on SEO and CRO in the B2B SaaS sector.

Kezia is passionate about helping governance professionals find the right information at the right time.