A conversation with Alec Arons, national practice leader of advisory services at Experis Finance

Podcast developed in partnership with Experis Finance

Interview by Joseph McCafferty

January 30, 2017

Increasingly, fraud experts consider many high-profile cases of corporate wrongdoing—like the phony accounts scandal that plagued Wells Fargo last year—not just to be a breakdown in the control structure of the organization that should have prevented the ability to commit such fraud, but also a failing of the company's culture, which should have prevented the motivation to commit such fraud.

Many companies are now taking a harder look at the culture of the organization and how such elements as "tone at the top," incentives and rewards, the communication of values, and other factors combine to influence executives and employees to do the right thing or to stray from the path. A logical step in this focus is conducting a culture audit.

Since MIS Training Institute and consulting firm Experis Finance teamed up to develop an eBook on auditing corporate culture last year, the trend has accelerated. More companies are working to audit culture and are using the results to improve it. We recently talked to Alec Arons, national practice leader of advisory services at Experis Finance to discuss some steps to get started on auditing corporate culture, and what companies can do to take those audits to the next level.

Arons says there's been increased interest in auditing culture among internal audit departments. "As the year has progressed, I'm seeing more and more interest in the topic resulting from the ongoing headlines in the news, such as the events as Wells Fargo," he says. "Audit committees and boards are also starting to ask more questions of chief audit executives in this area, as well as the senior managements of companies that they are involved with."

While auditing culture isn't easy, says Arons, it also doesn't have to be a massively complicated exercise either. "The biggest challenge is to define exactly what an organization wants to accomplish by doing an audit of corporate culture. The key question is: Do we want to do a single audit of culture across the organization, or do we want to take an approach where we really want to start by benchmarking our organization and building elements of auditing corporate culture into our existing audit plans," says Arons.

Still, an audit of culture requires some different skills and thinking from a typical financial or operational audit, he adds. "It's different because you are going to start to look at and apply different skills. It's going to require getting auditors to move beyond looking at a financial or operational process, noting that there may be deficiencies and the control is not working, to really beginning to probe and ask the questions as to why it is not working," says Arons. "Is it the policies? Is it a lack of understanding the policies? Is it the direction employees may have been getting that these [policies] are just not important?"

Arons also says it's important to benchmark where you are. "Culture is a lot like ERM [enterprise risk management]. We are getting our arms around it, but the first thing we need to understand is, what is the gap that exists between where we think we are and where we are in reality?" he says. "We've got to understand what gaps we want to close, what behaviors are doing well that we want to emulate across the organization, lay out a game plan and a roadmap, and then as we do audits in the future, we need to be able to do some testing and some evaluation to determine whether or not we are on track to move and mature along that continuum."

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

Length: 19 min. 18 sec.
size: 17.6 MB


 Joseph McCafferty is head of audit content for MIS Training Institute. He can be reached at jmccafferty@misti.com.


RELATED ARTICLES:

Auditing Corporate Culture: A New Imperative

eBook: The Why and How of Auditing Corporate Culture