Six Things Every CAE Should Do to Retain the Best Internal Audit Talent

Richard Chambers, CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CRMA, shares his personal reflections and insights on the internal audit profession. 

The global economy continues to improve, and there’s plenty of evidence that organizations are investing in stronger risk management and internal control infrastructure, including internal audit functions. In fact, early indications are that almost one-third of U.S. Fortune 500 companies plan to add new internal audit staff positions in 2014.
As hard as it may be for CAEs to attract the right talent, recruitment will not be the most significant personnel challenge. It’s convincing the best and brightest internal audit stars to stay with the department when there are attractive opportunities to transition into a business unit or a service firm.
I learned early in my tenure as a CAE that retaining the best internal audit talent required a continuous effort on my part and those of the managers who worked for me. Some of the strategies I deployed to retain talented staff came through trial and error. However, I had the advantage of being guided by my own experiences. After all, I first joined an internal audit department at 21 years old, and as a restless 20-something (yes — today’s millennials didn’t invent restless ambition), I changed internal audit roles several times in the early years of my career.
So, as a CAE, I constantly reminded myself of the reasons I had changed internal audit roles in the genesis of my career, and I tried to address the things that had caused me to pull up stakes and seek out other opportunities. In the end, I focused on six things that I needed to do every day to retain the best and brightest members of my internal audit staff:
  • Challenge internal auditors with new opportunities at every turn. Never forget that your most talented staff members will grow bored with routine assignments. The best and brightest must be constantly challenged and afforded an opportunity to grow. I left an early internal audit assignment and accepted one with a lower grade/title simply because I didn’t feel challenged. 
  • Acknowledge outstanding performers. Don’t be afraid to “play favorites” when it comes to your best performers. Acknowledge their accomplishments privately as well as publicly though awards and more prestigious assignments. Striving to acknowledge every member of staff equally will do little to motivate marginal performers, and will demotivate the best performers or worse yet, drive them away. 
  • Showcase your best performers and afford them the exposure they deserve. I was fortunate in my career not to have too many bosses who “hogged the limelight” when it came to the work that I or my colleagues had accomplished. The best CAEs for whom I worked made a point of taking me with them when it came time to discuss the results of an audit with senior officials. In fact, they routinely invited me to be part of audit committee meetings when one of my audit reports was being reviewed. 
  • Reward performance not only through acknowledgement, but through tangible means as well. Never forget that you are in steep competition for the very best talent. As much as a member of your team may value working for you and your organization, promise of a substantial salary increase will often prove too tempting. I left one of my first internal audit jobs simply because there was too much money being offered by the next one. On top of that, I didn’t feel like the CAE had even tried to match the difference. 
  • Support your auditors during the face of adversity. As I have written often, there are times when internal audit engagements will turn contentious. The degree to which the CAE supports his or her staff during such episodes will likely have a direct bearing on how loyal the staff remains to the CAE down the road. Even if the staff has made a mistake or handled a situation badly, there are usually exit strategies short of throwing the staff under the bus with management. I recall making the difficult decision to leave my third internal audit assignment because my timid CAE sat on a potentially contentious draft audit report for more than six months rather than releasing it for management comment. That was a mistake that I vowed never to make when I was hired back to take his place less than four years later. 
  • Invest in your staff like they are your most valuable asset — because they are. In one of my early internal audit assignments, I was hired as an internal auditor trainee (a formal three-year program that the organization used to develop future talent). The young man who preceded me in the program had been denied the opportunity for much of the formal training prescribed by the program, and was not happy. The CAE had learned a valuable lesson, and made sure that I had the opportunity to attend all of the training programs I needed/wanted. I grew to love the assignment and the profession and have stayed in it for 38 years. To the best of my knowledge, my predecessor left the profession less than two years after he finished the development program and never spent another day as an internal auditor.
As with any HR challenges, there are no magic formulas for success in retaining the best and brightest talent. However, failing to challenge, acknowledge, showcase, reward, support, and invest in your staff will dramatically increase their flight risks. These are lessons I learned in my own career, and that I later used effectively as a CAE. I welcome your ideas on this important topic.

Posted on Oct 21, 2013 by Richard Chambers

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  1. Oh how I sympathise! I must have recruited over 50, mainly qualified accountants, when I was CAE. I was lucky if they stayed more than a year before moving out into the company. I take pride in that some achieved senior positions and I think all were highly regarded. Indeed some were 'poached' by departments impressed with them on an audit. I had more success with the computer auditors I recruited, probably because they saw internal audit more as a career. There's the difference, the accountants I recruited saw internal audit as a stepping stone. They weren't unhappy with the work - it was a good introduction to a large, complex company, and the company recognised this. I tried to follow your six, excellent, principles but to no avail. My fundamental problem was that I recruited people who didn't see five years in internal audit as good career choice in a company that would have questioned the ambition of a young accountant prepared to spend five years in one department at that stage of their life. I seem to remember trying to recruit staff from the company but didn't find anyone suitable. If I were in the same position now, when internal audit has a higher profile, I would aim to recruit from inside the company again but add a seventh principle: raise the profile of internal audit within the 'target audience' of suitable trainees. I would do this by seconding in staff on specialist or operational audits such as treasury, store systems and IT audits. Plus I might try some reverse poaching, identify suitable staff and see if they were interested in studying for the IIA qualification.
  1. Good day sir. Im preparing myself to be a chatered accountant and im doing my internship in an accounting firm in Cameroon. I think your purpose really make sense according to the little experience i have. When you cannot motivate your staff thinking of their needs and trought challenges or by appreciating their work, it will be difficult for them to produce a good job. Many thanks.
  1. Very interesting principles!  You put them beautifully together. I just happend to apply the very first one some years ago. I assumed the position of Head of Audit at a time when a brilliant junior auditor was always following a rather consecutive Senior Auditor who always kept him behind the scenes. I observed this trend for a while and then decided to break it! I assigned the junior auditor a challenging assignment (made him the in-charge for a rather fast growing bank branch). He came up with a fantastic report that made him gain the respect of the entire audit team. But he did not stay long anyway, but only because the support for the IA activity was dwindling and the atmosphere was getting very unfriendly. I didn't stay long after anyway.

  1.  Very interesting article to open more in the challenging domain

  1.  This is typical Chambers tutorial, simple and resourceful. Internal auditors must work as one strong and united team.

    Highest level of brotherhood is expected from the CAE, Managers and Staff. Audit Team must stand and never crumble.

    It is so disheartening the displeasure and heart ache experienced when CAEs deny, abandon or stand against the team durng dificult or contentious audit report.

    Applying the 6 Chambers principle on retaining audit talents, may not be all that is desired but certainly will go a long way to having the best internal audit team. 

  1.  I think it was very comprehensive article 

    I just want to add one important thing to retain them is the power of the CAE to be able increase salary and to motivate the staff under his supervision and should be decision maker in this role Not to be guided by the operational management "independency is the most critical issue in this case" 



  1. This is a value-adding article which every CAE should know and try to adopt.

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