Receiving feedback is an essential element in every internal auditors’ development. These seven key practices should be part of this process to make it most effective:
- Focus on Facts. The manager should have, review, include and base the feedback session on relevant facts. This highlights the importance of keeping notes about each staff members’ performance and using them to support the general theme, and the specific points, made. This helps to ensure that the focus is on the behavior of the individual and helps to provide examples to illustrate and substantiate the observations. Managers should provide a balanced review focused on strengths and areas for improvement and base comments on observed behaviors and results. It is important to be objective and avoid unnecessary judgments.
- Provide Support. Managers should encourage ideas, opinions and different thoughts about the methodology followed and the work produced (e.g. testing performed, narratives and reports written, flowcharts drawn). It is a good idea to encourage the staff member to provide ideas on what is working, what is not working, what should be continued, what should change and what should be stopped. It also helps to reinforce the fact that the manager’s role involves supporting staff members during their development and career growth.
- Consider Feelings: The manager should focus on the positive feelings and emotions that will guide the auditor towards the desired behavior. The tone should be as positive as possible while simultaneously addressing any negative feelings present. These negative elements should be kept in check or put aside so the focus can be on what needs to be done to improve performance and grow professionally. It may also help to explain the effect or impact of the behavior on individual and team goals.
- Incorporate Lessons Learned. Internal auditors should focus on continued learning and development, so part of the feedback process should be on what the staff person is learning from the successes and failures. Focusing on learning is a good way to reframe issues and look at the positive side of improvement opportunities. Staff must also take ownership of their actions and personally invest in taking corrective actions.
- Assess Implications. Managers should include in the conversation the implications of what the person has done and learned. By focusing on the implications, the manager gives more attention and perspective to the feedback session.
- Set Goals. Managers should help their staff members implement corrective actions and adopt better work practices. This is done through new goals that keep the individual moving forward and transforming actions into positive habits that lead to better performance in the future.
- Provide Feedback Timely. Feedback should be given promptly after the events discussed. Many organisations have implemented a mechanism to provide formal feedback frequently, and informal feedback spontaneously. The annual review process is widely regarded as being too infrequent as behaviors needing improvement continue for months when they could have been corrected sooner.
Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, in their book, The One Minute Manager, suggest the following feedback practices:
- Let your employees know in advance that you will often tell them how they are doing by giving them feedback on their work performance
- When you learn that someone has done a good job, praise that person as soon as possible. Don’t wait for the performance review.
- Tell people what they did right. Be specific.
- Tell employees how good you feel about what they did right. Also, mention the helpful impact their actions have on the organisation and on the other people who work there.
- Don’t rush your praising. Stop for a moment to let the employee really feel that you genuinely mean what you are saying.
- Encourage the person to continue doing more of the same.
The 360-Degree Programs
In addition to the feedback from customers and the team leader, internal audit departments should consider implementing a 360-degree review process. These programs provide a holistic and comprehensive review mechanism by gathering feedback from an employee’s manager, peers, and direct reports. Sometimes external consultants or vendors (e.g. co-source providers) who work regularly with the employee are included too.
By increasing the number of participants in the review process, a better understanding of the person’s strengths and weaknesses can be gained. It provides a rounded view, especially since many internal auditors work on projects away from the daily eyesight of the immediate manager. In some organisations, auditors work with multiple managers as they are assigned to different projects so one manager would not have a full appreciation for the person’s performance over the entire review period.
The following are some essential elements to make the 360-review process work well:
- The culture must be conducive to it. Many organisations enjoy subpar results and eventually discontinue the program because they lack a work environment of fair, objective and honest feedback. When this happens, the 360-review process is tainted by retaliation or the fear of it. In some cases, employees are afraid to provide honest feedback about their managers or use the process to damage the reputation of others. Any of these cultural defects will derail the program.
- It must be forward-looking. Like all performance evaluation programs, it should look to the past sufficiently to get an understanding of past performance, but it must also focus on how skills and competencies can be enhanced in the future. By having a development component that addresses future needs and performance, the program will be more effective and valuable to the employee whose work is being reviewed.
- It should be comprehensive. The review should not be limited to technical skills, but should also include leadership, communication, teamwork, decision-making, problem-resolution, time management, effectiveness, and collaboration.
A 360-degree employee assessment is useful to the department, managers, and staff. Managers benefit from getting feedback from a variety of sources, which helps them improve and provides valuable input, so they can also support their staff. The staff benefits because they are eager to do a better job, advance in their careers, and want feedback to do this. And the department benefits because 360s promote a culture of getting and receiving feedback, and continuously improving how the work gets done.
Evaluating employee performance and giving and receiving it timely is essential for the auditors’ continued development and to ensure personal and team productivity. This will result in a stronger, more engaged and more capable internal audit unit.