The following article is part of our blog article series "The Future of Audit".
What is the reason for the intensive examination of this topic? We at zapliance with our team of auditors, scientists and developers, have observed in recent years that the general conditions for us auditors have changed rapidly. For example, the constantly growing amount of available data makes it increasingly difficult to take a holistic and valid view of the risk/opportunity perspective without the support of partners within the organization. This forces auditors to rethink their strengths/weaknesses profile - because working with partners requires personal skills which auditors have not previously been dependent on to this extent (our umbrella article, which describes the points just described in more detail, can be found here). Our blog article series on individual competencies is designed to help auditors rethink their own approach in order to be even more successful in the future. Give it a try!
My name is Alexander Rühle, I have been a passionate auditor since 2006 and have been the Managing Director of zapliance for five years now. Recently, I stumbled across a quote from John C. Maxwell, a U.S. expert on leadership issues and the author of numerous New York Times bestsellers. He says:
„Teamwork makes the dream work“.
It's a racy saying that reminds leaders that a functioning team is capable of great things - and a non-functioning team is often unable to rise to even the smallest of challenges. But to what extent does this saying also suit us auditors? To what extent does teamwork play a role for us auditors at all? After all, we often have the reputation of quietly working on our own. Additionally, is teamwork really just about the auditing team or is teamwork in auditing inevitably associated with all the stakeholders involved in an audit?
Teamwork is not only important now - it will also become increasingly important in the future.
I believe that teamwork will also become more important for us auditors in the future. Because, as I already wrote in the umbrella article of this series, cooperation between auditors and heads of specialist departments will become increasingly important. However, I also believe that teamwork is already of enormous importance for auditors today, especially in the cooperation with everyone involved in an audit. In this context, it immediately brings to mind an experience that a friend of mine, an auditor, told me about. A few years ago, he was informed by his supervisor that a colleague of his was "desperate" for a project with a large security service provider. It was said that the department heads responsible would not pass on important information and would refuse to cooperate with the colleague in any other way. At the same time, there was great pressure to complete the project promptly.
The supervisor of the friendly auditor developed an idea where two auditors on site could possibly achieve more than one, and so he was also put on the project. When he arrived there, his colleague told him about a ‘macho’ mentality among the managers - they were all, without exception, alpha males who showed no consideration for others and did not let him say anything. This impression was confirmed in the next joint meeting. But in this meeting, the auditor who had been called in succeeded by doing something that his colleague had failed to do for weeks: he was treated on an equal footing by the client's management staff and managed to obtain the necessary information without any major problems.
Privately, opposites attract. Professionally, they can lead to top performance.
But what had happened? Very simple: the two auditors could not have been more different. That started with their outward appearance - the auditor who was called in always wore a suit in meetings, whereas his colleague felt more comfortable in a short-sleeved check shirt. There were also clear differences in appearance. While the auditor who was called in appeared very determined, always spoke in a firm, loud voice and looked the other person in the eye, his colleague seemed rather insecure, spoke in a subdued voice and avoided long eye contact. All this may seem insignificant; after all, both auditors were professionally qualified and had already proven their skills in countless projects. But in this situation, it was the interpersonal component that made the difference. The determined colleague was able to stand up to the client's management personnel and gain their respect, which ultimately led to the successful completion of the project.
This is an example that has shown me once again how important teamwork is for us auditors. There is no single auditor who is the right man or woman for every situation. With another client, the calm manner and particularly conscientious way of working of the colleague in the check shirt would perhaps have been better received. In this article, I would therefore like to take a closer look at the issue of how auditors can succeed in finding the right partners to achieve their goals - a subject that is always hotly debated, especially regarding the composition of teams, which has already become a science.
The search for the right partner starts with you.
The first step on the way to the right partner or partners is self-reflection: every auditor should ask themselves where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Only by critically reflecting on their own abilities can auditors identify the areas where they have weaknesses that they can compensate for with the help of a suitable partner. It is important to remember that everyone has strengths and weaknesses - the focus on our own weaknesses should therefore not be seen as a general self-criticism.
But how do you identify your own weaknesses? There are two possibilities: Firstly, you should start by observing yourself. In concrete terms, this means keeping records about situations that have not gone well in your opinion or felt awkward. This could be a situation where all your colleagues take a lunch break together without asking you. Or a colleague makes a joke about your ugly tie that didn’t go down well. At the end of the day, write about these situations in as much detail as possible in a book - and follow this procedure for at least a month. After you’ve done this, you will have the opportunity to compare the situations you have written down and see parallels. You will see: a pattern of behavior will emerge, which will reveal at least one of the weaknesses. The situations described with the lunch and the joke could, for example, be an indication that the auditor in question does not find social interactions as easy as other colleagues.
Another good source of information: your friends.
A second way to learn more about your own weaknesses is to ask someone from your circle of friends. Of course, this is an approach that first needs to be overcome - who wants to be told by others what they are not doing so well. So, think carefully about whether you are ready for this step. The good thing is that weaknesses that show up in your professional life will most likely also show up in your private life. Furthermore, familiarity among friends gives you the opportunity to receive concrete and honest feedback - a big difference to the professional environment, where honest feedback is handled very carefully. This is understandably so, because otherwise the "office bliss" goes out of the window.
So now that you have identified your own weaknesses, it is clear what kind of partner you need: someone to complement the areas you are weak in. If, for example, you have found that your weakness lies in being easily irritable in stressful situations which then affects the accuracy of your work, your counterpart should be a person who can keep their nerve, even in tense situations.
The third possibility: A look at science.
For all those who find the two proposed ways of identifying their own weaknesses too complicated, there is good news: there is a third way to identify the "type of person" who would make a good partner. In the field of team development, there is a model that sorts people into categories by way of a grid. It’s very simplified, but still very informative.
In the style of Lorenz & Rohrschneider, 2009, p. 36
This model assumes that people can basically be assigned to one of five types:
‘The Analyst’ is more introverted and likes to keep to themselves. They work persistently and precisely but are not good at dealing with change. They also succeed in approaching emotionally heated issues objectively.
‘The Maker’, on the other hand, appreciates change and works in line with the motto, "Don't talk, act". They have a high level of self-confidence and have the will to set the tone - colleagues quickly get lost next to them. At the same time, they easily manage to motivate others.
In contrast to the two already mentioned, ‘the Expressive’ enjoys working with other people and wants to be liked by them. They like to test new methods, but concentration and endurance are not among their strengths.
‘The Friendly’ acts in a similar way to the analyst, thoughtful and level-headed. Good atmosphere in the team is important to them; they are sensitive and shows consideration for others. The friendly focuses more on improving what already exists than on introducing new things.
Finally, there is ‘the Creative’ who likes to think abstractly and does not follow familiar rules. To their counterparts, they often seem strange because of their unconventional behavior. They are often dreamers and consistency therefore is difficult for them (Lorenz & Rohrschneider, 2009).
So, did you recognize yourself in any of the five types? If so, then you probably already know what kind of partner you are looking for - namely one of the other four types. Who exactly that is depends on which of your weaknesses in the current situation (depending on the project, client, etc.) is stopping you from achieving your goals the most - and which strengths are needed most urgently.
But what should you do if you have identified several weaknesses in yourself? It is unlikely that you will find exactly the right counterpart who will compensate for all these weaknesses. Again, it is important to prioritize weaknesses depending on the current situation - and then find a partner who can compensate for this one weakness in the best possible way.
Make the person who is best suited to your needs your partner.
Now only the last step is missing: finding a partner who complements you with their strengths. On the one hand, this can be a colleague, as described in the initial example. Here, the silent auditor, who would probably be classified as an ‘analyst’ type, was joined by a colleague with a confident demeanor, who would probably be classified as a ‘doer’ type. On the other hand, a completely different person can also be chosen as a partner or ally. With reference to the initial example, this could also be, for example, the resolute secretary of the board of directors, who appreciates the quiet manner of the auditor and is prepared to obtain the necessary information for them from their boss. Keep your eyes open, good partners can be found (almost) anywhere!
Finally, I would like to say that it is not necessarily a bad thing to stand by your weaknesses and look for a partner who compensates for them. This is a tactic and has been pursued for decades right up to management level. So, remember:
„Teamwork makes the dream work“.
Lorenz, M. & Rohrschneider, U. (2009). Practical handbook on employee management. Munich: Haufe Publishing House.
About the author:
Alexander Rühle, CAI, CISA, is the CEO and CO-founder at zapliance. After 15 years in the finance and auditing world and having met his partner in crime, Prof. Dr. Nick Gehrke, at PWC, they started zapliance together, with the mission to change the way business professionals of the future work with data.