Investing time in mentoring can help enhance your audit team, add more value to your organization, and strengthen the internal audit profession as a whole — on top of the personal satisfaction that comes with helping someone progress their career. AuditBoard’s Scott Madenburg shares best practices for mentorship based on his experience retaining and developing a high-performing internal audit team as a CAE.
“You need to laugh at least once a day at work.” This was a favorite saying that one of my mentors shared with me early in my career, and it continues to be one of my guiding principles today. Under his leadership the internal audit group gained a reputation across the organization as a happy, engaged, and high-performing department taking on interesting projects. One key to cultivating a successful internal audit team was the time he invested in active mentorship — creating a welcoming space, learning about new hires’ long-term goals, looking for opportunities for them to cultivate new skill sets (in internal audit and other areas of interest), and supporting their career progress. Though our paths diverged, I ended up choosing to work for him again later in my career in part because his investment in the team made internal audit a great place to work, and partly because his early mentorship had markedly helped progress my career.
Our commitment to mentorship in internal audit is crucial to the success of the individual, the internal audit department, the organization we support, and the internal audit profession. When I found myself managing more and more direct reports until I became a CAE myself, I saw it as an opportunity to take the mentorship lessons I’d learned throughout my career and apply them in a new way. I’ve collected my top 4 ways to actively take on a mentorship role in internal audit — and create a happier, more skilled, more effective team.
1. Elevate People to the Next Level
If I had to define mentorship in one word, it would be “elevation.” Mentorship should be a long-term investment in someone’s future. Of course, you want to keep good people in your department, but at the same time you want your people to progress in their careers. In the first weeks after a new hire joins the team, schedule time to open a conversation about their professional interests and long-term career goals — and return to that conversation periodically over time. Having an up to date understanding of your team’s individual aspirations will enable you to send key opportunities their way to make sure they’re engaged in their work and help them move forward in their careers.
2. Make Time to Start the Team’s Day Right
Mentorship isn’t just about attending to each individual, it’s also about helping bring out the best in the group. I learned early on how important it is to start the day right. People arrive at work from many different outside contexts, and I’ve found that just taking a few minutes at the start of the day to check in as a group — not necessarily talking about work — has a multitude of interrelated benefits. These informal morning gatherings ease the transition into the day. Talking about life outside of work builds camaraderie within the team. A habit of opening up also creates a safe environment where people can bring up challenges they’re facing that day, and where others can step up to help out.
In my audit department, these morning chats were never formalized. It was a practice that grew naturally over time — we’d all grab morning coffee or tea and gather briefly before starting on the day’s work. It may look different in your department, but finding ways to bring your team together and care for each other’s wellbeing will help each individual reach their fullest potential every day.
3. Promote Learning — and be Open to Learning Too
One thing I’m always thinking about when I’m mentoring someone is whether they’re getting an opportunity to learn something new and expand their skill set. When I think of today’s world of internal audit — financial auditing, operational auditing, IT auditing, and so on — I see these major categories as an infinity sign. If you touch one part, it’s going to impact the others. It’s not necessary to be an expert in all of them, but an effective auditor will have the willingness to gain at least a general understanding, and eventual confidence (or even mastery), in the areas they’re less comfortable in. Strong mentorship means ensuring that your people have the right training, tools, and certifications to enhance their knowledge base — and that cross-knowledge will strengthen the internal audit department as well.
At the same time, to be an effective leader and a mentor, you cannot be the person who knows everything. I always say that “two brains are better than one,” and being a mentor has been one of my greatest opportunities for on-the-job learning and growth. We all have strengths and weaknesses, which means the people I mentor know things that I don’t. It’s important to take a step back and give them the opportunity to share their knowledge, or even take the lead from time to time. The team benefits by leveraging their expertise, and the role of the auditor remains fresh and exciting at all levels when there are new things to learn!
4. Actively Listen
Being a mentor is more than just dropping pearls of wisdom and opening doors — it’s also about taking time to listen and learn what each team member needs to flourish professionally. Having routine check ins can help establish a baseline, and enable a mentor to recognize warning signs when something changes. If someone suddenly becomes withdrawn, or stops participating, or isn’t engaged — these can all be signs for an observant mentor that something is wrong in the office or outside of it. It can be helpful to know if there is a relevant situation in someone’s life so that the mentor can provide support.
For the most part, we can control our team’s work environment, but we can’t control what happens outside of work. When appropriate, have a heart to heart discussion with someone you’re mentoring — you don’t need to know everything going on in their life, but you can offer some general guidance. Step outside the office, maybe go for a cup of coffee, and open a space to have a conversation — which will be easier if you’ve already established a supportive department that cares about each others’ wellbeing! Although your first instinct as the mentor is to lead this conversation, consider asking someone else on your team to speak with this individual, depending on the situation.
Mentoring is a job in itself — one that comes on top of an already full time position! Being an effective mentor requires additional work up front, but the benefits are well worth it. A well-mentored department will be a place that nurtures talent to help it reach its fullest potential. Your team members will be energized by projects that give them opportunities to learn and grow, and they’ll bring their new skills back to the department. If their upward career trajectory takes them to a new department or a new organization — great! I’d much rather have someone vacate a role to take on a new position they’re excited about than be in a job they dislike. If I’ve done my job as a mentor, they’ll have done quality work, enhanced the team, and enriched the profession as they moved forward on their own fulfilling career path.