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Are you aware of internal audit?

This month, the IIA has been promoting May as Inter­na­tional Internal Audit Awareness Month.

I’m conflicted, because as an internal auditor, I favour people being aware that my job exists. On the other hand, it has always seemed a little silly, or maybe crass even.

Another word that comes to mind is tone-deaf. Don’t we generally recognize awareness months for diseases or good causes or peoples’ heritages?

For instance, Wikipedia helpfully lists diseases or causes that are competing with internal audit for your awareness this month. Just a few:

  • Lou Gehrig’s Disease
  • Asthma
  • Lyme Disease
  • Guide Dogs

In Canada, various groups are trying to raise awareness for:

  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Hepatitis
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Food Allergies

Maybe some might consider being audited akin to having a disease, but should the IIA be inviting the comparison?

There’s a hashtag, #IIAMay. On top of that, there’s a logo which proclaims to all: Proud to be an Internal Auditor. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Look, I get it. Internal audit isn’t as well known as practi­tioners would like. They’re building a business here, the IIA, and trying to grow demand for the services of their members, and their influence in management circles. But that’s the type of thing that’s best accom­plished within organi­za­tions, by bringing your A game consis­tently and effec­tively as an auditor and a function.

Happy End of Internal Audit Awareness Month everyone!

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Feeling bloody young

A couple letters to the editor of CPA Magazine in this month’s issue made me feel so young again:

I’m can only guess at what you were thinking, putting “It really is a bloody big deal” on the April cover. Were you trying to be hip, or edgy? CPAs are profes­sionals and the magazine should present a profes­sional image. It doesn’t have to be stodgy, by any means. Certainly language evolves, as does what is considered acceptable use of it in various settings.

However your choice comes across as rather juvenile and ill-mannered.

And this:

Just saw the April issue, lots of good content. But I do think you could have used less offensive language on the front cover i.e. “It really is a _______ big deal.” A little more profes­sion­alism would be appre­ciated by your readers, even though the majority may not offer such feedback.

Arnold Hughes and Lino DeFacendis, respec­tively, letting everyone know how out of touch they are.

The headline was aping the marketing campaign that accom­panied the signing of Jermain Defoe by Toronto FC this offseason, which made use of the (appar­ently offensive) word ‘bloody’.

The story was about MLSE President Tim Leiweke, who has arrived on the Toronto sports scene to much fanfare and, dare I say it, hope for better days ahead. For some reason the article is not online, or I’d link to it.

Anyway, folks oughta lighten up.

Stone

Return of the Jedi (auditor)

Sometimes, people make mistakes. Recog­nizing when it happens and moving decisively to fix the situation is an important life skill, I think.

Three years ago, I left a building materials company to start work for a Canadian retail company. At the time, I thought it was a good move for my career. The Canadian retailer was based in Toronto and I thought there would be oppor­tu­nities to move up or laterally. I assumed that the culture, at least within the internal audit department, would be similar to the team I was leaving.

I was wrong. The culture of the department, and the company, was very different. I think it has something to do with the industry, and probably the centralized structure. But whatever it was and in what propor­tions, it wasn’t a place where I felt like I fit in.

This is why pencils have erasers, people. Back in August, I returned to the building materials company and the first internal audit team I ever knew. And so far, it’s been like I never left.

Let this be a lesson to never burn your bridges! I kept in touch with several colleagues via email and Facebook over the years, and when I finally decided to go for it, they were able to refer me to the relevant people who could get the ball rolling.

So, in conclusion, you can go home again. And I did.

12/19/13 Update: HBR says Never Say Goodbye to a Great Employee!

North Shore sunset

CFOs crave soft skills, but aren’t providing training

I caught the following tweet recently, and it reminded me of my most recent blog post on a survey that found finance people lacking in “value creation” skills:

The tweet links to a story that is based on a survey conducted by Robert Half. Here’s the actual survey release.

The first thing you notice is three out of ten say a lack of soft skills is the biggest factor holding back finance profes­sionals from advancement. Okay, that makes sense.

Strangely the next question asks where training is planned, but appar­ently only allowed one answer. It really should’ve allowed more, because companies can provide training in multiple areas. Respon­dents probably picked the area receiving the most attention, which might explain why soft skills garnered only 19% of the vote.

I had several paragraphs written where I specu­lated on why soft skills weren’t getting training dollars when clearly there is a need, and now that I analyze the poll questions themselves, I can’t use them!

However, I do wonder if “poor inter­per­sonal skills” is code for something else? Maybe a culture fit issue? Maybe some other career-limiting move? Sometimes it might be the other person who lacks people skills, and is projecting!

Up the silo

Finance managers are human

CFO.com has brought to my attention a survey conducted by the CEB of finance managers. They asked finance managers whether they believe their direct reports are “effective in the behaviors and skills that drive excellent perfor­mance by the finance function.” The title of CFO.com’s article gave away the answer: Finance Leaders Bemoan Talent Shortage. Not only that, but they’re good at the stuff that sucks and suck at the stuff that’s good:

And on average, finance workers are more skilled in the areas that have the least positive impact on value creation.

You know how everyone likes to think they’re above average? Above average driver, above average intel­li­gence, etc.? This is that. Finance managers believe they’re above average at their jobs, therefore those around them are likely below them, and possibly even below average. It’s OK. They’re human.

I also think there’s an element of confir­mation bias at play. They’re finance managers, so they must be above average and have the skills and behav­iours that the survey indicates is important.

But back to those hapless direct reports: First, who hired them? If it was those selfsame finance managers, shouldn’t that reflect poorly on their ability to assess compe­tence and develop talent? Whose respon­si­bility is it to put in place succession and training plans? (HR’s, they’d probably say, if surveyed about it.)

Overall, finance managers appear quite dissat­isfied with the talent levels on their teams. [The CEB] acknowl­edges as much. “We weren’t partic­u­larly surprised that the ratings were so low,” she says. In fact, she adds, one reason CEB did a report on talent is that when it conducted its annual inter­views with CFOs last year, 85 percent said talent was a major concern.

I’m not surprised either. This is never going to stop, until robots run companies completely. Even then we’ll probably sneak a “dissat­isfied with direct report talent levels” easter egg into the code, just so robot CEB surveyors can have something to write about. What a chilling dystopian vision; I think the living will envy the dead.

Merci­lessly, it continues:

Effective delegating is a capability many finance depart­ments sorely need. “After the financial crisis, finance is overwhelmed with ad-hoc requests,” the report states.

If you’re delegating to staff that you don’t have (because they were all downsized during the recession), it isn’t going to be very effective. Perhaps that’s the reason they’re feeling overwhelmed?

There’s a reason why great people are hard to find: they’re scarce. And once found, smart managers do every­thing they can to keep them. As well, it’s highly likely those yearned-for “persuaders, strate­gists and builders” recognize a good situation when they have it. Perhaps that’s the most important takeaway here for finance managers. Build it, and they will come.