The Art of Coaching Auditors

It was rather early years in my career when I started my job in Brussels as part of a global audit function. My role was mainly to train, coach, and manage a team of 2nd party auditors, located in different parts of the continent. My previous job also involved frequent traveling as being the national quality manager, but the pace and the context I had to deal with was completely different from the new role. The speed of traveling and change of scene, the number of new people getting into my life as auditor and auditee, the number of accents, cultures, and habits I was exposed to were just too overwhelming.

I remember my very first audit where I was supposed to coach a very experienced auditor. Funny enough, I was the one being coached by him on how to manage the entire audit process together with the stakeholders involved. If all the fear and anxiety I had during that one week did not paralyze me, it was because of his wisdom helping me humbly. According to him, the audit process was a simple equation of math where the only constant is pressure. Observing him during the process was a life lesson for me and I used that inspiration to coach a lot of auditors with different levels of experience.

Looking back I can say auditing requires indeed a lot of math and analytical skills but for managing the audit with harmony, you need to be a craftsman. Coaching is a very strong tool and widely used to help the auditors build the required skills. It is a process where auditors are supported to learn from the coaching moments. Coaching is an evolution rather than a revolution. If a good auditor is an artist, a good coach is a magician. Here are some tips on coaching auditors.

Building Trust

As a coach, your task is to build one-on-one relationships with auditors that result in improved performance. You need to be aware of all the barriers which prevent building this relationship. Being coached, most of the time, creates the false perception of being exclusively monitored and ranked. This can create a lot of pressure on the auditor and cause them to close up. It is correct that coaching does include some level of monitoring and ranking but it is much more than that. Trust is key to remove this undesired and unnecessary pressure out and to build a smooth road to walk together. This will also create a strong bond to communicate openly. Ask them how they would like to receive feedback: verbal, frequent, public, private? Tell them what the expectations from the coaching session are as well as the next steps.

Demonstrate Sympathy

Coaching is defined as unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them. This requires a lot of understanding, kindness, and sympathy. The coach is ultimately responsible for helping the individual to perform at his/her best, and nurturing would certainly help. Coaching requires a good balance of criticism and praise. Shape your coaching style to avoid focusing only on what’s not working and what needs to be changed. Appreciate what is going well while helping them understand what still needs to be improved.

Walk the Talk

There may be some slight variances, but at the end of the day adults learn no different than children, they tend to watch what is being done rather than listening what needs to be done. Show them respect. Listen to them carefully. Show integrity and gratitude. Work hard, do your job seriously. Demonstrate the skills that you would like them to learn from. The best way to teach people is leading by example. Be the person that you are requiring them to become. This will bring a well-deserved respect in return.

Be Adaptive

Coaching is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Some people will need a lot more handholding than others, depending on their experience and personality. Understand their individual weaknesses as well as strengths. The best coaches adapt their coaching styles for different individuals. If you are coaching a team of auditors, try to see the areas that they can learn from each other. Say, if one of them is great in report writing, let him/her do the job and ask him/her to share how he/she sharpened his/her skills in that. Give them chance to demonstrate their strengths. They will equally be willing to share their weaknesses once the path of open and honest communication is established. Be readily available for them to help work on their weaknesses. Be flexible and ready to change the plans if the current set-up is not working to help them.

Get Feedback

Coaching is not a one-way street. It works only if it is designed to work in two ways. Analyze what you could have done better and share your thoughts with them. Be specific while doing so. Ask them to provide feedback on what went well and what could be improved. Get an agreement on the content of the assessment made by you and the auditors on the auditing and coaching process. Consider making the assessment written so that everybody sees what they had agreed. Prepare actions for the improvement opportunities you can address and ask them they do it for their part.

A great coach is not the person who has the answers and solutions for all problems. They support individuals in the process of learning new skills and competencies. In the context of auditing, the best coach is the person taking the auditors through all the challenges of the process, hand-in-hand, and help them find their answers within the frame of their potential. Coaching an auditor is not to create an exact copy of yours, it is helping the person to develop his/her unique style to overcome the un-unique challenges of auditing.

By Tülay Kahraman
February 15, 2021

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