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How to ensure your internal audit report drives decision making

Internal audit reports – a waste of time?

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influencingAfter a cursory glance at recent headlines on FIFA, IAAF and VW you might be forgiven for thinking internal auditing and corporate governance have failed spectacularly. On the assumption that all these organisations have a functioning internal audit system in place, I can only assume that the most concise, most clear and most complete audit report does not stand a chance against a political decision taken in the upper echelons of an organisation’s management – which brings us to our message: despite these high profile negative examples, an audit report should support management in their decision making. So how do I, as an internal auditor, ensure my reports drive decision making?

Writing your internal audit report with your reader in mind

The answer is in a nutshell accessibility and readability. Let’s start with the reader, the manager. Try a little organisational empathy and put yourself in his or her shoes. They want clarity on the key issues; time is a factor so they want the issues visibly flagged up. In my experience of working with various audit departments I have seen corporate guidelines which demand all audit reports are minimalist and reduced to bullet points consisting only of problems and measures. At the other extreme I have seen “traditional”reports, complete with footnotes and dense prose, which would make Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister green with envy. So, obfuscation or clarity?

Balancing your content and context when writing internal audit reports

As we deliver training on report writing for internal auditors , let me come off the fence. I recommend a minimalist approach. Your organisation should agree a report structure that sets out the information efficiently. I would also recommend standard language and formulations so as to ensure consistency and common understanding. The manager should be able to say, “My focus was directed immediately to those issues that needed action, I was quickly aware of the probable causes and there were concrete proposal for improvement.” The auditor should be able to say, “I was able to organise my working notes quickly and efficiently and did not need to spend too much time deciding which structure and which formulation to use”.

Of course an audit report should be written clearly, concisely and completely. Yet more important for the decision making is the report format and formulations and how the information is organised. It might not be pretty but it will drive decision making.