Home > Risk > Is your internal auditor a back seat driver or a coach for excellence?

Is your internal auditor a back seat driver or a coach for excellence?

October 18, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Each of us, in our personal lives, has suffered with people who don’t have anything good to say. All they do is carp and point out all your mistakes, even when they are not mistakes.

The back seat driver is the epitome of this annoying individual. He doesn’t participate in helping you get to your destination, but just annoys with complaints and pointing out when you missed your street.

The mother-in-law is another caricature of an individual that has nothing but negative to say. I like the joke: what is behind every successful person? An astonished mother-in-law.

These people seem to find joy in your distress.

So what do we do with them? We tune them out. We try not to pay attention. We do not permit them to influence our actions and lives.

But how many internal auditors fit this profile? How many just drone on about failures of controls and how we have taken risks we should not (not including allowing them in the back of the car)?

Years ago, I talked to a business executive who was so fed up with the internal auditors at his location that he moved them out of their onside office to a location a few miles away.

Let’s contrast that with the person that I hope everyone has in their life: a coach for excellence, a mentor on life’s journey that is not hesitant to tell you the truth about where you are and the mistakes you are about to make, but does so with the clear intent to help you succeed. Criticisms are constructive and designed to help not hinder.

This is the person you welcome, not to the back seat of your life, but right next to you in front. Your mentor and life coach gives you a better chance for success, to be a better person, to win in the game of life.

How many internal auditors are life coaches for excellence? How many recognize that the only way they succeed is through the success of their organization?

Success is not measured in the number of findings, but in the lack of findings as controls are improved.

What type of internal auditor does your organization have?

Don’t tell me that in order to be independent and objective the auditor cannot align with the success of the organization. I will kick those auditors to the curb.

  1. Peter Dyer
    October 18, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    Norman I think these comments are compelling & insightful. I very much agree with them.
    You also highlight a critical are which is the professional experiences of the audit team and their skills to be able to execute as a true business partner, adding value to the business and driving operational excellence rather than merely acting as a compliance function.

  2. Slobodan Dimitrovski
    October 19, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    Great article! I would have to say, in all honesty, that at the beginnings of our internal audit department (and our profession as internal auditors), we were probably the back-seat driver. We have been able to detect our flaws, however, and worked on improving ourselves, in order to reach the front seat, which I sincerely believe we occupy at the moment. looking back, maybe it was the route itself (from the back to the front seat) that helped us grow and improve on both personal and professional level. The “add value” part of the definition of internal auditing should be our guiding star.

  3. October 20, 2012 at 7:15 AM

    Norman, I agree – who wouldn’t, put in these terms? There are situations however where internal audit, being sometimes ahead of the management curve, could act more like a driving instructor. In this case you are still in the front seat but may need to use the dual controls of the governing board to get evasive action taken.

  4. Raviprakash Deora
    October 20, 2012 at 9:27 PM

    i do agree that Internal Auditors are supposed to be Coach for excellence. however, when IA are allowed to review the transactions only after it is completed and not before the event. then how would you think that Internal Auditor still be in a coach for excellence position as he has left with no option but to post review the event and come with shortcoming / area for improvements for the next time event (ie back seat driver) , which he could probabally check only after the event is completed.

    • Norman Marks
      October 21, 2012 at 8:10 AM

      Ravi, what is keeping you from reviewing major projects, such as new system implementations, before they are implemented?

      Norman D. Marks, CPA, CRMA

      • Raviprakash Deora
        October 21, 2012 at 9:08 PM

        Dear Sir,
        In the case referred, Audit Committee believes that Internal Auditor should not be involved in decision making process of management and hence it has not considered as pre-audit (Auditing the transactions before it takes place) as a tool even for capital project. Most of the strategic decisions are being known to the internal auditor after the same are taken and process of implementation is started.

        • Norman Marks
          October 21, 2012 at 9:31 PM

          Ravi, does the Audit Committee see the value of the internal auditor as consultant, and by providing assurance through preventing control and security problems? If not, some eduction is in order.

          Norman D. Marks, CPA, CRMA OCEG Fellow, Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Risk Management Vice President, Evangelist Better Run Business SAP

  5. October 22, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    hi Norman

    great article and i agree with peters comment regarding which is the professional experiences of the audit team and their skills to be able to execute as a true business partner adding value to the business and driving operational excellence rather than merely acting as a compliance function.

    i think this really hits the nail on the head


  6. Kazi Halim
    October 23, 2012 at 8:01 AM

    Role of internal auditor depends on the organization structure. If the Internal Auditor can act independently such as reporting to the Independent Audit Committee, then their contribution would be much higher than the reporting line to CFO /CEO. Internal auditor’s role is no longer to find what has gone wrong but it is more to answer why did it go wrong (such as non compliance of Corporate policy or Corporate policy was weak to adress market risk) and how the process could be improved in response to market demand and risk. Management perception about Internal Auditor’s role is key to take them as Coach instead of keeping them in back seat.

  7. October 23, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    I have to admit, unfortunately, that one common personality type I’ve encountered in auditing is the person who delights in making others look bad. However, I can also say, this type of auditor is very limited in total career growth. As a Senior Auditor or possibly a Manager, a person might work very hard at pointing out the shortcomings of others and can be seen as extremely hard working by management. However, at the Director or GA level, it’s all about building teams and partnerships and this is where being a back-seat driver isn’t enough. Instead, one has to be successful as a mentor and coach that provides value-added recommendations and not just someone who issues a series of parking tickets for problems everyone already knows about. A good auditor is a resource to the team and provides tremendous value, but a back seat driver can quickly change impressions and leave a cleint questioning the entire process.

  8. omoniyi olugbenga
    March 20, 2015 at 12:36 AM

    i still dont get what back seat syndrome means

    • Norman Marks
      March 20, 2015 at 7:06 AM

      A back seat driver is somebody (famously a mother-in-law) that sits in the back of the vehicle and criticizes the driver. It a metaphor for a critic who can’t do the work themselves and has nothing positive to say.

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