The work of internal auditors and compliance professionals is complex, challenging and often, unfortunately, under-appreciated by their clients. What makes matters even more stressful for these professionals is that their managers sometimes micro-manage them.
Management is an art that requires balancing the need to guide staff members appropriately. Some individuals require more supervision due to their limited skills or experience, or because they lack the discipline to carry tasks to completion. Others, however, are knowledgeable, motivated and have effective time-management skills, so tasks can be delegated to them and should be given more leeway to get the work done without the constant oversight that micromanaging entails.
General Patton, the famed World War II military leader, is quoted as saying:
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
However, is that all it takes? Tell people what to do and go away?
Not exactly. Failing to supervise those that need to be supervised is a recipe for trouble. So, what are the necessary elements that make General Patton’s words work effectively for us?
Internal auditing is project-based, so there is constant starting and stopping, it requires those practicing it to learn new topics often and quickly, those audited regularly don’t welcome the reviewers, and since the results are shared with the highest authorities of the organization, it can cause high levels of stress for everyone involved. So, this line of work is not suited for everyone.
To succeed, internal auditors must embrace change, be lifelong learners, handle uncertainty and work with limited information, meet deadlines, have an inquisitive mind, and thrive in an environment where being respected is more important than being popular.
For managers to be able to tell subordinates “what to do and let them surprise you,” the staff must be adequately trained. They need to have the necessary knowledge and skills. Without that, whatever is being requested is not possible. Frustration will follow.
Similarly, if the staff does not know what the mission, vision, and goals are, they won’t understand the direction they should take, and efforts will be erratic and short-lived. The likely result is the lack of focus, loss of enthusiasm, and limited follow-through as they get distracted with other matters.
Another critical element is that managers must understand the requirements of the job and the qualifications of their staffers so they can gauge what to delegate and to whom.
The following is a list of some critical skills that all internal audit and compliance professionals should be trained on:
- Analytical and Critical Thinking
- Accounting and Finance
- Risk Management
- Information Technology
- Cybersecurity and Privacy
- Legal, Fraud, and Forensics
- Data Mining
- Quality Controls
With these skills and ongoing practice, staffers will gradually develop business acumen to handle diverse tasks in the workplace. Business acumen allows individuals to make decisions and act appropriately because they understand the context, timing, circumstances, and politics involved in the matters at hand.
Audit and compliance professionals routinely handle sensitive information, so they must be able to show discretion and good judgment. They must be trusted when they are assigned projects and given access to data, files, documents, and records. However, do managers trust their staff when they delegate work to them? Many managers do not, and this lack of trust is evident in the way they treat them.
If personnel is not trusted, the manager won’t delegate easily or willingly. They will be unable to assign tasks and step back, but instead hover unnecessarily, micromanaging when it is not necessary and spending valuable resources that could be better used elsewhere.
However, more importantly, these managers should ask themselves why they can’t trust the staff member and what needs to be done to correct that.
Responsibility without authority is a recipe for failure. If a manager wants employees to get work done independently, those employees must be empowered to get the job done. They may need the manager to communicate the importance of the task to all involved and give those involved, and especially those in charge, the authority to take reasonable measures to move things along and get the work done.
Few things are more frustrating to a professional than being told to work with others or obtain items needed for the job, without having the authority to gain cooperation or to secure the tools and resources required.
Early in a professional’s career, they may not have the authority to make many decisions independently. However, over time they should receive more authority, so they don’t have to go to the manager repeatedly to get approval for minor matters.
Delegating and then leaving employees alone to do the work doesn’t mean that you disappear. You must still be available in case they get stuck due to insurmountable obstacles, challenges beyond their ability to resolve on their own, or unexpected technical needs that the manager possesses. Managers still need to be available upon request and provide needed support. Status updates done verbally or in writing, go a long way towards creating a communication line between the managers and staffers, so issues can be discussed timely and resolved promptly. The interval of these meetings depends on the skills of the staff and the sensitivity of the assignment.
In general, employees need their managers to step back, not go away.
By hiring well, then training, trusting, empowering, and supporting their employees, managers can delegate with confidence and allow the staff to surprise them with their ingenuity. Accountability will be established; employees will know what is expected of them and will have the requisite tools to get the work done. With that in place, the only need to tell staffers how to do the job will be in terms of baseline performance requirements and standards, such as which documents are required for completion, timeline expectations, and so on. However, this is more about “what” needs to be done, and like General Patton suggested, less about “how.”
When managers focus on “what” to do they will have more time to dedicate to strategic planning, analysis, providing feedback to their subordinates, coaching them, and removing the obstacles that prevent work from getting done in the first place. Subordinates will have an opportunity to practice problem-solving skills, exercise their creativity, and use their ingenuity to surprise you with the superior results that make organizations successful.
Interested in learning more about this topic? Join Dr. Murdock when he teaches High-Impact Skills for Developing and Leading Your Audit Team and Managing the Internal Audit Department.