Minimizing Auditor Turnover

In many organizations, auditing is an assignment taken on in addition to an employee’s primary tasks and duties. In other words, these internal auditors are volunteers. The reality is there is a high drop-out rate for volunteer auditors. Organizations can reduce internal auditor turnover by:

  1. Choosing the right employees to perform internal audits
  2. Making sure all managers understand the time required for internal auditing
  3. Having a policy (need not be written) that ensures internal auditors are granted adequate time away from their primary job to prepare, audit, and report results

Choosing the Right Employees

Internal audit training is often a 16 – 24 hour investment for the organization. Selecting candidates is critical because internal auditing can be a difficult task. The arduous task of planning and preparation may involve researching specifications, learning about unfamiliar processes, and reviewing requirements. ISO 19011, Guidelines for auditing management systems, provides guidance on the knowledge, skills, competencies, and attributes recommended for auditors. Knowledge can be provided through training. Skills and competencies can be gained and refined through practice. Selection of potential auditors should be, in part, based on the attributes of potential auditors.

ISO 19011 recommends the following attributes:

  • Ethical
  • Open-minded
  • Diplomatic
  • Observant
  • Perceptive
  • Versatile
  • Tenacious
  • Decisive
  • Self-reliant

While this is a great list of attributes (and probably applies equally to many functions within an organization), I would recommend selecting potential auditors who have the following attributes:

  • Curiosity
  • Willingness to learn / Ability to accept constructive criticism
  • Ability to see “the big picture”
  • Respect of co-workers
Curiosity is critical. That is why I emphasized it in this blog's thumbnail image.

The Time Required for Internal Auditing

Time management is an important auditor competency, but probably less important than setting reasonable expectations for management.

Managers at all levels of an organization have probably been exposed to quality management system auditing from the receiving side. They may have a misconception of how long auditing takes based on how long they have been on the hosting (receiving) side of an audit. The actual time an auditor spends collecting objective evidence through interviews, records review, and observation may easily represent only 25% of the total time necessary to complete an audit. What appears to be a 2-hour audit may require 8 hours of the auditor’s time. When a (volunteer) auditor asks for time away from their primary tasks to audit, his supervisor must understand that time is required for the preparation and planning stage, performing the audit, and reporting on the results (which includes potentially initiating corrective actions).

Estimates of how internal audit time is spent

Estimates of how internal audit time is spent

Policy of Priorities

When an internal auditor has a primary job in addition to their auditing responsibilities, the organization should have an estimate of how much time should be carved out to work on audit-related tasks. The estimate must be a shared expectation of the auditor, his immediate supervisor, and the audit program manager who is responsible for developing and maintaining an internal audit schedule.

The organization may also need a policy that governs when that time can be taken. Often the auditor’s immediate supervisor is at odds with the audit program manager about this. They both consider the auditor in question as a valuable resource. When a specific day/time is set aside for audit-related tasks, the auditor’s supervisor must make every effort to honor that commitment. And when the auditor’s primary department is in a crunch, the audit program manager needs to have some flexibility is revising the audit schedule. For those organizations who often operate in fire-fighting mode, the organization should consider having a written policy on prioritizing resources for auditing. One of the biggest complaints from volunteer internal auditors is that they are on the receiving end of conflicting demands from two different sources. Ultimately, most internal auditors will eventually try to please their immediate supervisor as that is the person that often has more say in decisions relating to compensation or promotions. Establishing a policy in advance can alleviate some of that conflict.

Conclusion

Turnover in the internal audit function can be caused by numerous factors, but some can be eliminated by design. Choose auditor candidates based on the attributes your audit program needs. Make sure everyone understands that the visible portion of an internal audit represents a fraction of the time involved in audit-related tasks. And don’t let your auditors get torn between their supervisors and the audit program manager.