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Thinking Like an Auditor

  • Embracing Multigenerational Teams in Audit

    March 27, 2019 | By Toby DeRoche MBA, CIA, CCSA, CRMA, CICA, CFE

    We currently have 5 distinct generations in the workplace, including in internal audit and compliance departments. While much of the focus is on the two younger generations, the inclusion of millennials and Gen Z into the existing team structure affects everyone. Deloitte has published a Millennial Survey for the past few years. In the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, they included Gen Z as well. The focus of this paper is to highlight the younger generations’ perspective on business, so the older generations can take action to be more inclusive.

    In this multigenerational environment, we must quickly find a way to make this work for everyone. In this blog, we’ll establish a baseline understanding of differing generational skills and discuss the role stereotyping plays in our organizational culture.

    Let’s start with understanding who we are working with. As mentioned, we have 5 generations in the workforce today:

    • Traditionalists: born before 1946
    • Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964
    • Generation X: born between 1965 and 1976
    • Generation Y (Millennials): born between 1977 and 1997
    • Generation Z: born after 1997

    Each generation is unique as it was shaped by the social, political, technological, and cultural environment in which they lived. In internal audit, this means members of the various generations are working together with very different skill sets.

    Audit Skills Training

    Internal audit has a nearly endless list of skill requirements. We must also keep up with legal requirements, industry requirements, audit standards, technology changes, and so much more. One of the most difficult areas is keeping up with soft skills. In a multigenerational setting, soft skills are often the most difficult and each group has their own perception of these skills. In communication skills, Traditionalists and Baby Boomers may prefer in-person meetings and phone calls, while younger generations may prefer digital communication.

    • Interview Skills
      Audit managers often have trouble understanding the work habits of the younger staff. One of the common complaints among managers revolves around interview skills. Generally speaking, younger generations seem reluctant to engage in face to face meetings. Traditionally, we’re taught that the most effective interview is conducted in person. We use technology as a tool for information gathering and setting up the face to face interview. Younger staff members often take an opposite approach, attempting to complete all information gathering and interview through email. They may default to the communication tools that they see as the most convenient, but that is not to say that they are avoiding meeting in person. Seeing another person’s reactions during an interview in person has unique advantages over electronic communications. You may even meet them halfway and implement an interview program using WebEx, Skype, or other meeting technologies that are available.
    • Written Communication
      Educating all your staff on interviewing skills and appropriate business communication techniques will probably improve both those who over-rely on email and those who could use it more effectively. One training session on business communication may not be enough to correct years of habits developed by millennials and Gen Z. Often the emails sent out by less experienced staff are very short and informal, much like a posting on social media. As with any other skill, written communication skills should be monitored and developed.
    • Receiving Criticism
      The ability to give and receive constructive criticism in a manner that is easily accepted is an incredibly hard skill for managers to develop. When a manager has a younger auditor sitting across the table, the situation can be even more difficult. Those just entering the workforce have been called “The Trophy Generation.” They sometimes appear to need endless reassuring and only positive feedback. In reality, they are often seeking out any feedback, positive or negative, so they can make improvements, and they work hard to deserve any positive feedback.

    Stereotyping

    Most of the conversation about generations is by its very nature stereotype based. Stereotyping is, unfortunately, both necessary and a huge problem for this discussion. We are attempting to understand a huge, diverse group so that we can make decisions about our organizational structure and culture, but once we accept a stereotype, it becomes institutionalized. If we’re wrong, we must unlearn that way of thinking, which is infinitely more difficult. Stereotypes cause a leap to judgment without evidence. As auditors, we should immediately see the flaw in the practice since we ALWAYS base our decisions on evidence.

    Here is an example. We may believe that millennials are likely to quit a job after just two years, and we may have seen data that backs this idea up. Do we assume all younger employees are going to leave after two years? If we do, this stereotype will influence how much time and effort we are willing to put into developing those employees. At the same time, the 2018 Millennial Survey from Deloitte found that younger generations are most likely to leave jobs when they do not receive the development they need and expect. By accepting a stereotype, we may ultimately create our own staff turnover.

    Invest in Your Staff

    No matter the generational structure of your department, you should invest in your entire team. The guidance on auditor’s skill requirements is never based on a particular generation. In our current multigenerational setting, the only assumption we should make it that everyone on staff needs ongoing training. The training should include a mix of technical skills and soft skills, and we need to add in refresher sessions for the basics each year. Once we drop the generational bias, we can get back to the basics of auditing.

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