Audit International recommend five ‘Under the Radar’ Areas to Audit that May Not Be on the Audit Plan.

As internal auditors, we all have a “spidey sense” of what we should be auditing.

Sure, we should, of course, conduct comprehensive risk assessments that drive our audit plan, and many of the usual suspects will end up on that plan: cybersecurity, regulatory compliance, financial reporting, third-party relationships, and you know the rest.

But there are things, we would strongly profess, that should be audited, even if we aren’t formally auditing them and they never make it to the actual audit plan. Just by being aware—casting that web, if you will—you should constantly informally “audit” a few critical areas.

What might be some of those things we should (lower case) audit, even if we aren’t (upper case) Auditing them? Here’s Audit Internationals take on five:

Culture: Are Disconnects, Even if Subtle, Surfacing?

So much has been written and said about doing culture audits and internal audit’s potential role in doing such a review. Perhaps, however, your organization doesn’t support internal audit doing a full-blown culture audit. Does that mean you throw your hands up and do nothing with the topic? Heck, no!

Look, we are among the very few in the organization who have the benefit of both grasping the desired culture and viewing the entire company because of our day-to-day work. So, why not leverage that and tune into what is going on around us and notice the organizational behaviors, actions, and attitudes that are consistent with, as well as (importantly) counter to, the desired culture.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

Some caveats, though. First, be sure you completely understand the desired culture, both what is formally stated through things like the organization’s listed core values as well as what is implied in the “how things are done around here” subtleties. The formal and the informal culture are equally important. Then, as you go about your work in various departments and interact with people at all levels of the organization, be cognizant of behaviors, language, demeanor, protocols, and other elements that seem inconsistent with what you expected.

Now, if you witness such imbalances, and you’ll know because it will make you a bit uncomfortable, talk with close colleagues or discuss it amongst your team. If something seems amiss, continue to keep your eyes and ears open and provide your internal audit function leadership with examples of what you are witnessing. If there are culture issues in a particular area of your organization, it is likely manifesting itself in a number of other issues as well. Your internal audit function leadership will guide you on what to do and may provide guidance on the next course of action. Chief audit executives will need to consider when and how to elevate such delicate issues. Yes, it’s a sensitive topic, but something that might be critical to address. Your spidey sense will guide the way.

Employee Engagement: Are People Checking Out?

While it has been a topic in the corporate world for more than 20 years, at least since the Gallup Organization and their Q12 employee survey instrument brought it into the lexicon, “employee engagement” has re-emerged these days. By now, we’ve all heard the new buzz phrase “quiet quitting.” While it’s a catchy label that has been slapped on what is, in essence, just disengagement, it’s not to be taken lightly. Employees who have become disengaged in your company’s mission, vision, and values don’t have passion to do their best. This should be deeply problematic to executive leaders and, in turn, to you. It is a significant and costly drain on everything your organization does.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

Just like with the culture topic, we, as internal auditors, interact with more of the organization across all levels (along with HR) than most anyone else in the entire organization. Therefore, we have our finger on the pulse when it comes to engagement and its evil twin, disengagement. Do we have a general sense though the course of our internal audit work that people care or if they are they just going through the motions? Sure, we do.

We don’t need to be scientific about it, and we don’t have to call anyone or any function, department, or location out, per se, but if we see that there is a trend developing toward greater levels of disengagement, let it be known. Make it a part of what we absorb about the organization on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Elevate the concerns, whether to HR, department levels, or even the senior management. In other words, don’t ignore it.

The Physical Facilities: Are Things in Disrepair?

As much as we may not all be going into a physical office as much anymore, many employees will still spend at least some time in the office or at company facilities. And, the physical state of the office location, branch, facility, or building space is important. Not only can facility disrepair be unhealthy or unsafe, but it can also just negatively affect employee psyche or customer impressions. Pay attention to what things look like and what is the state of the physical environment around you. It may signal deeper problems or an overall neglectful view of the business.

We all have stories about what we’ve witnessed. I remember walking past a locked closet and smelling a damp odor. I could have just ignored it, thought it was just me, or figured that someone else was probably aware of it. Instead, I decided to mention it to the facilities manager of the location. And, lo and behold, behind the rightfully locked door a roof leak had infiltrated the space and it was a wiring closet. It could have been a big problem if it were ignored for any length of time.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

Keep your eyes and ears open as you go about your work. Does something seem amiss regarding the physical location? Mention it to someone who could do something about it. What’s the worst that could happen? They tell you “thanks, we are aware of it.” At best, you help address an issue before it gets out of hand. Sometimes we all become blind to our physical surroundings because we’ve just been there for so long. But a fresh set of eyes and ears might just help the organization out and make employees and customers even more appreciative of the physical space they show up to and that the organization spends so much money on. Internal audit can have a unique perspective of noticing what gets unnoticed.

The Parking Lot Check: Is Fraud Hiding in Plain Sight?

Closely related to the physical state of the facilities is the state of the employees. Ever see a change in someone’s habits that don’t sync-up with what has gone on in the past, and you wondering “what’s up with that?” Perhaps someone is showing up to the office in a new luxury car, expensive clothes, or talking about some lavish vacation they went on?

Most often, there is a great explanation, and it is none of our business. But, also, any of us who have been around the block a few times will also know that, occasionally, these changed behaviors are clues that something is amiss and that someone may be on the take. You could call this “doing a parking lot audit.” So many frauds and embezzlements have left a trail of these clues as the perpetrator wanted to channel their ill-gotten gains into the fruits of luxury and apparent success. It’s not an outright indicator or fraud, of course, but it might be a red flag to dig deeper, especially if things weren’t adding up already.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

Just keep your eyes and ears open, being observant to uncharacteristic behaviors, purchases, and chatter could provide clues to someone who is taking advantage of their position and situation to pilfer from your company. No, don’t go around accusing people of things where you have no proof, of course. But eyes open and be vigilant. And, if you see something, say something to a trusted colleague within your internal audit department. If necessary, elevate it within your department and, if warranted and approved, do some follow-up in a clandestine manner. You may just catch something in its preliminary stages and head it off at the pass, so to speak. Most people steal from the company in small increments, and it escalates from there if they feel they are getting away with it undetected. But, in hindsight, there were usually always clues … perhaps no further away than in the parking lot.

Hotline Activity: Is Volume Up, or Has Volume Decreased?

Most internal audit functions have some role in monitoring their organization’s whistleblower hotline for employees, and sometimes also third parties, to file complaints. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often small complaints (that point to bigger problems) go unnoticed. Your internal audit function may have complete ownership of managing what comes though, you may partner with someone else in the organization, such as compliance, human resources, or legal, or you just get things passed to you for review or investigation as needed from one of these organizational partners. Regardless, you need to have some role in monitoring the volume of activity. What types of activity are coming through? Are there recurring issues? What are the trends? It doesn’t take an audit, but it does take awareness. Changes in volume can be very telling, and that could be changes in either direction (increased or decreased volume).

Increases in activity might spell some brewing issues of a more macro sense and, alternatively, decreases in volume may spell a level of distrust in the confidentiality of the hotline or a perceived lack of seriousness with which reported items might be getting addressed.

So, what’s an internal auditor to do?

It doesn’t have to be you, so long as someone in your internal audit function is attuned to the trends, both in terms of volume and types of activity. And, if there are notable changes in the trends, up or down, it might be time for a deeper understanding of what might be going on. This could be a signal of troubles brewing that are inconsistent with the desired culture.
To be clear, internal auditors don’t need a formal audit plan initiative to keep abreast of important developments in the organization. It’s not easy, I know, as the formal audit plan has us busy enough, but a little observation may go a long way. Head up, eyes and ears open, use all your senses and leverage your well-honed intellectual curiosity and professional skepticism. Do some ad-hoc auditing of things you might not be able to (upper case) Audit and don’t necessarily make it to the formal audit plan. The organization will be better for it, and you will enhance your engagement and contributions innumerably.

As popularized in the Spiderman comics of yesteryear and said in more recent movies, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Wield it judiciously!

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