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Building a Better Auditor: Gaining Fresh Perspectives from Mentorships and Networking

Blogs Irina Stefanova, CIA candidate Oct 04, 2022

To combat isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized it would be valuable to interact with another internal audit professional to discuss hot topics in the internal audit area. To this end, I decided to participate in 2021-2022 IIA Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program. At first, I was not too sure what to expect from the program. But I soon had the opportunity to learn and enhance my understanding of the internal audit profession, thanks to my mentor, Dr. Rainer Lenz. For me, having a mentor means more than having someone to look up to — a mentor is someone with whom I can trust and share open and honest conversation on different topics of interest.

As part of the mentoring program, I considered what qualities and skills an internal auditor should possess to be successful in his or her role. I determined that the top qualities an auditor should develop to become a better auditor are as follows:

  • Effective communication – the ability to network and build relationships.
  • Critical thinking and analytical mindset – the ability to analyze facts and form judgments.
  • Active listening – the ability to listen and learn from others.
  • Curiosity – having an open and inquisitive mind.
  • Integrity – being honest and objective.
  • Detail-oriented – having an eye for details.
  • Technical skills – the ability to apply data analytics in audit work.

Participating in a mentoring program helped me enhance some of these skills, such as effective communication, critical thinking, and active listening, while providing an opportunity to network with another internal audit professional.

Effective communication through networking

Internal audit skills can be strengthened not only through years of experience in the profession but also through mentoring. One key benefit of mentoring is the ability to advance skills through networking with peers. Through networking with my mentor, I gained new insights into the internal audit profession as the "gardener of governance," a metaphor suggested by my mentor. Internal auditors can be compared to gardeners, aware of what is going on in the organization (garden) and how the organization is "growing." Like gardeners, internal auditors are caring, are respectful toward nature, and want others to succeed in the same way flowers are flourishing. Internal auditors treat people with kindness. At the same time, internal auditors call a spade a spade. Effective internal auditors are good networkers. Having no formal authority, effective internal auditors benefit from strengthening relationships with managers on all levels. This is happening at any time. When on assignment, such relationships help auditors get things done.

Critical and analytical skills & knowledge transfer

Critical and analytical skills are another key quality that can be enhanced during mentoring, through knowledge transfer. For instance, as part of the mentoring program, I read Chip Heath and Dan Heath's book, "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die." I found it interesting that the book's "SUCCESs" definition (simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, stories) used to describe "sticky ideas" can be applied to the internal audit profession. Internal auditors must present their observations and suggestions in a way that the message sticks. Storytelling can help. Specifically, successful internal auditors audit what matters, find ways to make themselves understood, and say what they have to say in a simple manner to be heard and understood. Internal auditors perform through others; thus, skills involving influence are paramount.

Listening skills and empathy

Empathy is a key quality of effective internal auditors. Being an active listener helps to truly understand other perspectives. As part of the mentoring program, I learned that an internal auditor should be careful before judging. Seeking to understand first, matters. Understanding the context of why things are what they are is important to grasp the root causes of phenomena observed.

My perspective of the internal audit profession has been broadened and enriched during the IIA Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program. There are more promising paths of positioning internal audit in an organization. In contrast to the traditional "police of the organization" metaphor, I see value in a humble, softer way of approaching my work. The issues that truly matter are rarely black or white, and seeing and understanding the nuances is important. My mentor offered a different perspective of the internal audit profession and made me think about the evolution of the profession in the future. I believe the future of internal audit lies especially in the empathy and listening skills of future gardeners of governance. I see value in that metaphor. I would like to thank Dr. Rainer Lenz for his time and dedication to this program and for supporting me through this journey.

Irina Stefanova, CIA candidate

Senior internal auditor at Paysafe in Bulgaria.

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