Empowerment in audit – Accounting Today

Posted: September 10, 2020 at 7:54 pm

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How many of you got into auditing because you love filling out forms? Consider for a moment: The staff who stay are the ones who acquiesce to filling out endless checklists, but those who want to broaden their perspective and depth of knowledge about the client and the industry leave. Scary, isnt it?

We need to set up our firms to keep those who know what the bottom line was on their last audit, and especially those who know how their client makes money. We need to keep the people who will move us from audit and accounting to assurance and advisory.

We have so much untapped potential in our firms to move the audit into the future, but we cant access that without a culture of empowerment. Empowerment is one of the five attributes of a framework for audit leadership weve observed in successful firms over the years. The other attributes are relevance, business-mindedness, quality, and innovation.

Empowerment means that teams feel like they have ownership over the outcome, outputs and the process of what they are doing. They need to feel its OK to try doing things differently and even to make a mistake and learn from it. The quality of everyones work improves when they have the confidence to present new ideas, and to push back when they think theres a better way to do something. And empowerment delivers results especially when it is partnered with owned accountability.

Empowered teams are engaged

Theres an old story of an architect and two stone masons. The architect asked the first stone mason what he was doing. The mason said, Every day is the same. I cut heavy blocks and put them in place to build a wall. The architect saw another stone mason who was doing the same work as the first one, but this one was visibly more animated. The architect asked him the same question, and this one said, Im building a cathedral! Isnt that wonderful?

Our culture of filling out checklists means audit firms are filled with people building walls, not cathedrals, hardly an empowered group. But an empowered team is all-in. Theyre engaged. Theyre looking for ways to add value with each audit and believe its their right and responsibility to do so. Theyre not afraid to innovate, and theyre actively thinking about ways to help the bottom line for their clients. They see and own the end game: protection of the public interest, successful clients and a healthy firm.

In the current COVID-19 environment, engagement might seem like a luxury, when some audit firms are needing to lay people off just to survive another day. But according to a recent meta-analysis of global business data performed by Gallup, engagement is even more important in times of crisis. According to Gallups analysis, which covered both the 2001 and the 2008 recessions, Business units are at an increased advantage and more resilient than their peers if employee engagement is strong. And they are at an increased disadvantage and less resilient if employee engagement is weak during a recession.

So what should leaders do to create that advantage? Heres a hint we dont just point the team at piles of stone and walk away, assuming it will become the cathedral.

Four connections you need

Leaders and managers need to set the stage and be present and available along the way to enable empowered team members who are connected to their work in four distinct ways:

Without these four connections, you have a disconnected group of people who will be ready to join another firm for a higher paycheck. Why not, when most every firm has the same checklist mentality of building an endless wall? You can make your firm attractive to the great auditors when youre building a cathedral.

A culture of empowerment

Building a culture of empowerment doesnt require investment in expensive training. You can build it with small changes, but those small changes make a powerful impact:

Leave audit in a better place

Audit is rapidly becoming a commodity, and there are rumors that blockchain will make audit obsolete. But we honestly believe it's not too late.

There is so much potential in the talents of our people at every level in the firm that the power of all of us working together can make a huge positive difference for the future of A&A. When we empower our people to play all in and we guide them to understand that audit is more than a forms-filling exercise, we can move the profession to a place where team members want to learn, grow, stay, help their clients be successful, and to eventually lead the firm.

To get there, right now we have to work to make audit relevant to our clients. An attitude of business-mindedness means were protecting the interests of our firm and looking for ways to help our clients be more successful. Striving for first time right means quality isnt something measured by the number of checklists and isnt something that we hope quality control will fix at the end. We need to embrace innovation as not just adding more technology, but looking for different ways to do things, and doing different things. And lastly, we need to empower our people to apply their curiosity and intellect to take A & A into the future.

If we do all of that, the future of audit will be better than the present.

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Empowerment in audit - Accounting Today

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September 10th, 2020 at 7:54 pm