Imaginative strategies are helping some internal audit departments to sharpen their verbal communications skills.
INTERNAL AUDITORS may possess all the financial and technical skills in the world; but if they can't develop a rapport with auditees and convince management to implement their ideas, they won't be very effective. Strong writing is an essential skill for internal auditors, of course; but oral communication skills are equally important.
Christopher Hutchings, Assistant Vice President and Director of Corporate Auditing at the Coca-Cola Company, observes that "Being able to sell your ideas is as important as having ideas worth selling. You have to be a good communicator to be effective. You're attempting to provide a solution that may cost auditees money, time, and people. How you sell your ideas is critical."
In seven different internal audit shops around the U.S., several innovative approaches to improving oral communication have been developed. Although each approach is custom-tailored to the needs of the organization, these internal audit departments share a conviction that strong oral communications skills are crucial to their effectiveness.
Who Better to Teach Selling Ideas Than the Sales Department?
Gene Bastedo, Director of Internal Auditing at Federal Express, maintains that "In the audit department, we are in the business of 'selling' our recommendations and ideas." In thinking about developing a course to help his internal audit staff enhance their selling capabilities, it occurred to Bastedo that he had a group of experts within his company: the sales staff. He reasoned, "Why go out and hire sales experts when we have people with the same skill sets in-house?"
When Bastedo and his audit managers met with the Federal Express sales staff to discuss the proposed course, Bastedo explained that he wanted to stress open communication, service to clients, and quality management. It was agreed that one goal of the class would be to encourage the Federal Express sales staff to train auditors to think like salespeople.
In fact, auditors were trained to see things from the client's viewpoint, empathize with them, and prepare responses to their objections. "I understand how you feel, but here's what other people have found" might be one counter to an internal audit client's reservations. Areas such as nonverbal communication, listening, strategic communication systems, and overcoming obstacles to effective communication were stressed.
Audit manager Glenn Pearson met with the sales training department to review its curriculum and to determine which sections were best suited to internal auditors. In learning more about his counterparts' approaches, Pearson found many similarities between the way salespeople and internal auditors operate. "We're selling our audit recommendations and dealing with objections. We both apply similar techniques," Pearson observed.
The sales acronym APCOM -- acceptance, purpose, consulting, overcoming objections, and motivating to act -- provided a useful framework for auditors. Auditors were taught techniques to anticipate auditees' objections and strategies to overcome their resistance.
Pearson did concede that, unlike auditors, sales professionals sell a product and base their arguments on its outstanding features. "Auditors aren't selling features. We're selling ideas and recommendations," Pearson pointed out, "and that can be more complex and ambiguous."
Feedback from auditors who took the class was very positive. Auditors realized that audit reports are often not enough to convince the auditee to implement recommendations. "You must see auditees as customers. Overcoming objections is a way to encourage them to implement our ideas. That's the bottom line," says Pearson.
Stand Up and Present!
In a study that identified people's deepest fears, dying was ranked as the second most terrifying. First was delivering a speech before an audience. But David Garrett, currently director of Global Real Estate at Levi Strauss, spent 14 years as director of internal audit; he asserts that "Auditors have to present their findings not only to their peers but to local management. They have to be able to speak clearly and...