Internal auditing is a complex field of work that is undergoing significant changes. Internal audit managers, directors and chief audit executives work diligently to make sure their staff has the ability to perform their duties and develop leadership, communication, interpersonal, and negotiation skills. Similarly, internal auditors are tasked with managing their careers, so they remain relevant in the short and longer terms. Given this complex environment, it is not surprising that mentoring and coaching have emerged as essential tools to help auditors grow professionally.
During coaching the learner is supported to achieve specific professional or personal goals through training and guidance. In a corporate environment, it is common for coaching programs to have a duration of a year or less.
Coaching is usually geared to helping new hires transition into the department. It can accelerate the assimilation process, ease stress, and minimize work errors. By making the integration process smoother, it also makes it faster, it raises engagement levels and reduces turnover.
Formal coaches should be selected carefully, focusing on those that have a natural interest in teaching, who have a friendly and easy-going personality to make the learning process enjoyable, and the flexibility to respond to their partners’ needs with expertise. Informal coaches emerge spontaneously and the natural affiliation provides similar benefits to the coach and apprentice.
Mentoring is similar to coaching, but it generally focuses more on developing the individual, rather than training the person for a particular job or task. Mentoring also has a deeper relationship component where the mentor guides the protégé over one or more years and the development is multi-faceted focusing on work, career and professional development.
Mentoring programs can be formal and run within the internal audit department if it is large enough to support it. Ideally, mentors would not be the current or future manager of the protégé because the manager-subordinate relationship can sometimes limit the candor and long-term plans that will be developed. While there is no precise number to consider a department “large enough” to sustain its own formal mentoring program, one with fewer than 30 employees will probably face difficulties having enough people that can serve as mentors, for enough protégés, who are not currently, or won’t later, become their immediate manager. But one can still be arranged, often with the help of other division heads or with the support of the Human Resources department, which is often the one that establishes and sustains company-wide mentoring programs. After all, an internal auditor’s mentor doesn’t have to be an internal auditor as well.
While most people think about a one-to-one relationship (i.e. one mentor to one protégé), it is possible to have multiple mentors. This can be beneficial because more than one mentor will widen the knowledge of the individual as different mentors may have different strengths. For example, an internal auditor could have a mentor where the relationship focuses primarily on personal attributes like public speaking, leadership, self-confidence, and community involvement. While another may focus on career advancement within internal audit and understanding the organization’s culture.
A less common dynamic that internal auditors should consider as well is reverse mentoring. While the typical relationship involves the more experienced, and typically older employee providing guidance to a younger employee, the opposite approach can also be used.
With the increase in digital innovations, technological applications, and social media, in some cases new and younger employees have become mentors to their otherwise more experienced counterparts. Millennials are generally more familiar with these technologies than senior employees in the organization, so they can help them understand, use, and embrace these tools and trends more effectively.
In this upside-down arrangement, younger employees will benefit from gaining a better understanding of the bigger picture, institutional history, and context, while more senior employees can learn about social, demographic and technological developments that are impacting the workplace, its industry and their internal audit clients.
As individuals advance in their careers and reach higher levels within the organization’s hierarchy, they often enter executive coaching programs. The Executive Coach Academy defines executive coaching as “a facilitative one-to-one, mutually designed relationship between a professional coach and a key contributor who has a powerful position in the organization. The coaching is contracted for the benefit of a client who is accountable for highly complex decisions with a wide scope of impact on the organization and industry. The focus of the coaching is usually focused on organizational performance or development, but it may also serve a personal component as well.”
Executive coaching arrangements tend to be customized company-sponsored programs for high-ranking and high-potential employees that are collaborative, pragmatic, strategic and consider the leadership and psychological ingredients for success for the individual. The relationship generally involves the executive, the person’s boss, the human resources manager, and the executive coach.
Coaching and mentoring can be done formally or informally. Either program has resulted in the personal, academic, and professional advancement of many people and is known to have transformed many individuals’ futures. Its origins can be traced back to apprenticeship programs and remain useful today given the many changes impacting business and personal dynamics.
Concerns over succession planning and knowledge transfer due to the mass retirement of Baby Boomers is forcing many organizations to implement coaching and mentoring programs. This is a very powerful supplement to traditional training or merely documenting people’s knowledge in procedures documents and flowcharts. By implementing a mentoring program, less experienced workers would have access to an expert who can give feedback, and answer questions they may not know where to find answers to. Also, more experienced individuals can transfer their knowledge and experience to younger workers and help them assume leadership positions when the mentors retire.
New and experienced internal auditors need guidance, support, inspiration and an example to follow. It makes the journey more enjoyable. It helps to avoid mistakes by having someone whose expertise and experience can help to clarify options and issues. Coaching and mentoring programs may not guarantee success for everyone involved, but it has been proven beneficial to many for hundreds of years, and it could enhance the work environment in your internal audit department now too.