World-Class Internal Audit
Over the years, I have had the privilege of leading world-class internal auditors – world-class people who deliver world-class internal audit services to our customers on the board and in management.
I hesitate to call the teams I have led world-class. There has always been room for improvement.
But our customers and peers have called us world-class. For example, executives and audit committee members have said:
- “Internal audit provides us with a competitive advantage”
- “You have yet to perform an audit I wouldn’t gladly pay for”
- “You help the audit committee sleep through the night”
- “You are not a typical internal auditor”
When Arthur Andersen (and then Protiviti with KnowledgeLeader) built their on-line repository of best practices, ours was the first internal audit function profiled.
Now that I am retired (even if still busy), I have found the time to collect stories from my professional life in a new book: World-Class Internal Audit: Tales from my Journey (see below for links to the book). These are stories about experiences that have shaped me as a leader as well as how I approach internal audit.
My hope is that the book will not only be an easy and entertaining read, but my successes and failures, together with my reflections, will help you as you consider your own career.
Some stories are, I hope, amusing. Some are about learning experiences (i.e., mistakes and embarrassments) from which I grew.
I have also included comments and observations from members of my teams, some of whom followed me as I moved to other companies. For example, a current chief audit executive who worked with me at two different companies had this to say:
“Norman had a unique leadership philosophy where he adapted to the demands of the situation, the abilities of the staff and the needs of the organization. He was able to move between leadership styles utilizing the one needed for the challenges that the company was facing. He was at times visionary along with a coaching emphasis while not micromanaging. Norman set high standards, was democratic but occasionally would utilize a classic authoritarian style when needed with certain employees and situations. Norman moved easily between leadership styles which resulted in developing World Class departments. As the Chief Audit Executive for a semiconductor company I still consult Norman on various audit topics and practice leadership techniques I learned under his tutelage.”
Here’s one of the stories in Chapter 5 on the topic of “the value of writing and teaching”. The ‘David’ referred to was my boss at Coopers, David Clark.
My next adventure took me into a new and smaller world: the world of microprocessors.
People I knew were buying do-it-yourself microcomputer ‘kits’ from mail order stores, and the technical computing journals were starting to hint that these devices had the potential to move from a hobby to a business tool. In 1974, a company called Zilog was founded and in 1976 they introduced the Z80, an 8-bit microprocessor that was a significant advance from the early Intel 8080 model. The Z80 allowed more powerful devices and the military, in particular, used it extensively. The Z80 powered early business computers, such as the Osborne, Kaypro, Xerox 820, Radio Shack TRS 80, and Amstrad. I purchased a Radio Shack TRS 80 Model II a little later – but that’s another story.
I believed in the potential and wanted to share that vision with the rest of CAG. After obtaining materials directly from Zilog and accumulating a number of pieces from journals, I started to write. I was smart enough to include diagrams, but not smart enough to please David with the initial drafts of my paper.
After I had exhausted my patience and wanted to give up, and David had nearly exhausted his patience with me, he gave me two pieces of sage advice:
- Tell him (in person) why this is important. Say it and then write what you said. As you are saying it, learn from the listener (David) how to express your thoughts in a way that will be understood – and learn what not to say because it will not be understood.
- Avoid technical language and use ordinary English where possible. If you have to be technical, explain the terms clearly so that the non-technical person will understand.
I ended up writing a much longer piece, but it worked. While not everybody would share my opinion of the potential, everybody understood what I was talking about.
Later that year, I was asked to be one of the teachers at the off-site training session for people joining CAG. This was a wonderful learning experience for me. The task of teaching meant that I had to master the fundamentals of what I needed to teach. It was also essential that I avoided technical language when plain English could be used – and that I explain the technical in easy-to-absorb-and retain terms.
This set of experiences led me to require all of my staff to:
- Write and speak for the people who are listening, the people you are trying to influence, inform, or persuade
- Write and say what they need to hear, rather than what you want to say
- Use language they understand. If they don’t start with a decent understanding of the topic, explain any technical terms in ways they can understand
- Give examples and use diagrams; they are of great value in expressing ideas, especially to those who are visually oriented (i.e., absorb concepts from seeing better than they do by reading). I became used to getting up and using a chalkboard to diagram and explain what I was trying to communicate
- Master the fundamentals: you won’t get far explaining anything unless you have deep understanding of the topic yourself
I hope you enjoy this story and consider the book.