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​On the Frontlines: Can Agile Unleash Internal Auditors' Potential?

Magazine Resource Mar 31, 2021

While governments, organizations, and workforces are thriving toward the new normal, the need has arisen to reimagine workplaces and retrain workers.

This reimaging is not limited to enhancing telework capabilities and implementing virtual workplaces. "Executives say their organization's ability to navigate future disruptions will rely on distinctly human capabilities," according to a 2021 Deloitte Insights report. Hence, one of the biggest challenges is for organizations to go beyond retraining by unleashing workforce potential.

Internal auditors are not apart from the shifts driven by the new global human capital trends. During the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous reports and surveys have tried to show the path to the future of the profession. We already know that the internal audit activity should be more future-focused, value-driving, and agile. However, some internal auditors may think that the profession is over-regulated by all kinds of standards and guidance and therefore hindering them from tapping their full potential, even if that is not true.

Indeed, The IIA's guidance has always promoted an insightful, proactive, and future-focused internal audit activity. This is one of the Core Principles for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. To conform with this principle, internal auditors have to develop competencies such as critical thinking and the ability to champion change, continuous improvement, and innovation within their organizations.

Still, internal auditors may consider all this theoretical and not easily applicable in the real world. And in any case, they expect more. They would like to free their profession from strict static constraints, audit approaches, and methodologies to bring more creativity and initiative to their jobs.

We do believe that organizational success is based on unlocking human potential, but would this be possible for the internal audit activity without threatening the profession's fundamentals and cornerstones? Yes, but under some conditions.

Empowering internal Auditors With Agency

According to the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report:

"Empowering workers with agency and choice creates more value than overly prescriptive approaches. Organizations that afford workers the agency and choice to explore passion areas will be able to more quickly and effectively activate workers around emerging business priorities than organizations that take a prescriptive approach to filling skills needs."

A way to do so is "to give employees more autonomy and agency to choose how to shape their work environment in ways that allow them to perform at their best," Deloitte says. This could be achieved through job crafting, which means "the way in which employees can seek opportunities to customize their jobs by actively changing tasks and interactions with others."

Deloitte stresses that "with job crafting, employees have the ability to redesign and reimagine their job and therefore increase meaningfulness, satisfaction, motivation, and well-being."

It appears at first sight that this approach is not suitable for the internal audit profession. From audit planning to communication of results, the internal audit process is tightly standardized. However, this has not prevented the profession from adopting the Agile approach, which has every chance to unleash internal auditors' potential without compromising the profession's fundamentals and foundations.

Is Agile Internal Auditing the Way Forward?

Bear in mind that the Agile audit process is conducted through sprints, which are time-boxed activities. These activities start with a "sprint planning" ceremony, where goals for the current cycle are identified, risks are prioritized, and testing procedures are defined.

At a review meeting (sprint review) on the last day of the sprint, audit team members and other relevant stakeholders discuss observations. The sprint review represents an incremental reporting exercise and may produce an actionable report item for which the audit client will begin developing responses or action plans.

The "sprint retrospective" ceremony is the last activity performed in each sprint. During this meeting, the audit team evaluates its own performance in each sprint and make changes or other adjustments to improve work in subsequent sprints.

This approach recently embraced by internal auditors has provided more room for unleashing their potential. Indeed, the attributes of Agile internal auditing can facilitate the job crafting explained in the Deloitte report.

For example, the audit work is more collaborative with much more team communication and interaction. By adding to that the tremendous benefits of the approach's learning process, internal auditors are more able than ever to release their synergistic creativity. And, as "a cherry on the cake," Agile internal auditing aligns perfectly with The IIA's International Professional Practices Framework.

Mikhail Ben Rabah, CIA, CRMA, is government auditing manager with the Presidency of the Government of Tunisia.