When Independence Can Hurt the Internal Auditor

Norman Marks, CRMA, CPA, is a vice president for SAP and has been a chief audit executive and chief risk officer at major global corporations for more than 20 years.


An interesting report from Right Management finds that "poor relationships [are] the top cause for leader failure."  The top two factors were identified as:

  • Fit with company values and culture 68%.
  • Interpersonal skills 66%.

One comment was:

What emerges from the survey analysis is that leadership success is increasingly dependent on getting along with others in the organization as well as with one’s own team. A leader must be able to connect, build relationships and be flexible enough to adapt to the corporate culture.”

How does this apply to internal auditors?

The need to be independent in fact and perception can distant auditors from management and staff. But, we can be independent and objective in our work without being aloof as well?

The answer is “Yes – we must!” The reasons include:

  1. People will share information with and more readily consider recommendations from people they know and trust. Building relationships outside the audit environment (over coffee, lunch, or in other ‘friendly’ settings) is critical to success within it.
  2. We can stay in touch with organizational strategies, changes in risk, and more through our network. Building that network is a key contributor to an auditor’s success within an organization.
  3. While we are independent and objective, our goals are (or at least should be) the same – the success of the organization. It can honestly be said that our job is to help management succeed.
  4. Our ability to grow within the organization, not only through transfers outside internal audit but also by internal audit being asked to take on value-add tasks, is increased. At one company, I was asked to take on leadership (in addition to internal audit, contracts audit, and investigations) of the quality assurance function in IT. Why? Because not only was there some clear synergy, but I was trusted and known.

Do you agree? What has been your experience, and why have you succeeded?

Posted on Dec 1, 2011 by Norman Marks

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