For the past several years, I’ve embraced the new year as an opportunity to set out timely, relevant, and actionable New Year’s resolutions for our profession. My resolutions for 2024 find a common thread in a renewed commitment to ensuring our work has the best chance possible of making an impact.
As I recently wrote in my Audit Beacon blog, internal auditors able to reach the level of trusted advisors tend to share an often overlooked attribute: They focus on results and truly care about the outcomes of their work. They know that the value of their audits and reports is best measured by the resulting impact on the organization. In 2024, consider the following resolutions focused on increasing your work’s impact.
1. Redouble Efforts to Communicate Impactfully
Even the most insightful audit findings won’t have an impact if they’re delivered in the wrong ways, at the wrong times, or to the wrong people. Results are elusive when critical messages are diluted or stakeholders aren’t listening.
Internal auditors tend to be analytical, detail-oriented, and careful — all beneficial attributes at their core. But the “results” of these attributes are often contrary to what’s needed: long-winded, overly detailed, or excessively frequent reports; a lack of synthesis, such that report users are unable to connect the dots; and too few actual opinions, given reluctance or uncertainty.
Every internal auditor can benefit from communicating more impactfully. Indeed, Protiviti’s 2023 Next-Generation Internal Audit Survey found that “using high-impact reporting to deliver and communicate value” was internal audit leaders’ top choice for the factor most contributing to making an audit function relevant. Protiviti’s report highlights four characteristics of high-impact communications (summarized here): (1) relevant, customizing and flexing messaging and modes to fit stakeholders’ varying needs; (2) risk-informed, dialed into the risks that matter to deliver insights connected with goals, strategy, operations, and compliance; (3) concise, effectively using data, visual appeal, and clear, efficient messaging, and (4) insightful, offering fresh perspectives that go beyond what stakeholders already know. I’d also add (5) timely, ensuring that insights are delivered in time to be useful — not after the fact.
This critical resolution is within your power to execute. Strive to create more dynamic, tailored, and timely communications in the coming year, putting the spotlight on action.
2. Cultivate Allies to Support Internal Audit Technology Investments
Technology is pivotal in enabling the internal audit transformation needed to help organizations close the growing risk exposure gap. Unfortunately, internal audit’s historical trend of lagging in embracing new technologies is persisting. The majority of internal audit leaders surveyed in AuditBoard’s 2024 Focus on the Future are not prioritizing key technology investments in 2024: 66% rated deploying next-generation technologies within internal audit (e.g., AI, RPA, ML) as either “optional” or “not considering,” and 59% said the same about implementing or expanding adoption of cloud-based integrating risk management technology.
I often hear CAEs say, “We just don’t have the resources,” or “We can’t get approval for the investments we need to make.” That’s exactly why internal audit should resolve to work closely with its allies and champions (e.g., CFO, CIO, CRO) to build support and gain buy-in. Accelerating our technology journeys requires convincing others to come along. In 2024, take a methodical approach to winning over your organization’s decision-makers.
3. Leverage AI as a Capacity Multiplier
In particular, leveraging AI to augment and expedite the audit process should be a top 2024 priority for any internal audit department that hasn’t yet taken bold action toward doing so.
AI tools can be used to support planning, scenario analysis, dynamic risk assessments, and even reporting. They can be profoundly efficient in surfacing issues and insights, accelerating auditors’ ability to connect the dots across the organization’s data to identify risk and control issues and deliver timely, relevant insights.
I readily admit that I started out 2023 skeptical of these new AI tools. But as the year wore on, I began to appreciate the power they have in helping me organize my thoughts as I prepare to tackle a topic. I never accept what AI offers as absolute, but rather as directional. I’m adapting because generative AI may well prove to be the ultimate capacity multiplier. In a world racing to embrace AI, internal audit can’t afford to be laggards. We also have a critical role to play in helping our organizations understand, govern, and gain assurance on AI.
4. Embrace Complexity and Ambiguity as an Opportunity
In a world where crises are continual and chaos is the new normal, organizations need internal audit more than ever. But achieving results amid permacrisis requires challenging past habits and assumptions, and changing how we think and work. True transformation begins with a transformational mindset.
While this is no simple proposition, there is a simple call to action at its core: In 2024, move forward with a steadfast readiness to embrace complexity and ambiguity. The fog on the horizon has largely collapsed the knowledge gap between internal auditors and many of our key stakeholders. Nobody knows what’s next. However internal audit is uniquely equipped to help organizations navigate the pervasive complexity and ambiguity, given our ability to bring together objectivity, risk knowledge, and business acumen to identify and monitor emerging risks and provide relevant insight and foresight.
5. Prioritize Conformance With the New Global Internal Audit Standards
A profession cannot properly exist without standards to which its practitioners are held accountable. Ours owes a massive debt to The Institute of Internal Auditors’ (IIA’s) 1978 Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing, which helped to establish internal audit as a true profession. (This excellent paper from Dr. Sridhar Ramamoorti offers more history.) Internal audit’s role has only increased in scope and stature in the years since. The IIA’s 2023 release of revised proposed standards for public exposure and comment was a vital step toward better meeting the needs of our much-evolved world — and our much-evolved profession. Final standards are expected any day, with a one-year implementation timeline likely.
I have always been a strong advocate for conformance with The IIA’s standards, and I encourage all internal auditors to prioritize conformance with the new standards in 2024. In the meantime, make sure you understand the potential implications of the proposed changes — and remember, whether you agree with 100% of the changes is moot once the standards are final. Regardless, I’m sure we can all agree: The higher the standards to which we hold ourselves, the better the outcomes for our organizations.
Resolve on Results in 2024
Internal audit’s role is growing and evolving, and we must follow suit. In 2024, don’t lose sight of the end game — and don’t underestimate your power to drive small, achievable initiatives that can have an outsized impact on your organization. Step up to the challenge, making an orientation toward results one of your superpowers.
Richard Chambers, CIA, CRMA, CFE, CGAP, is the CEO of Richard F. Chambers & Associates, a global advisory firm for internal audit professionals, and also serves as Senior Internal Audit Advisor at AuditBoard. Previously, he served for over a decade as the president and CEO of The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Connect with Richard on LinkedIn.