Let’s start with the obvious: attracting and retaining top talent is critical to the success of a high performing internal audit function.  And, if you would indulge me in sharing one other truth, compensation alone is not the deciding factor in winning the battle for talent.  In order to attract and retain talent, organisations need to develop a reputation as a place where people want to work, grow and stay. Every department needs to be provided with the flexibility and tools needed to create micro-environments in which team members are able to execute their responsibilities while achieving their desire for learning, growth, and balance.

Whether the organization as a whole is onboard or not, corporate audit needs to develop and embrace programs designed to meet the needs of a changing workforce if they are to attract and retain top talent.

The Landscape

A great deal has been written about the millennial generation and how they differ from previous generations. However, while millennials may define how they require their needs to be met differently than prior generations, their needs really aren’t all that different than those of (aging) baby boomers and Gen X’rs.  At the end of the day, we all want financial security, career success, work/life balance and to work for an ethical organisation. The challenge for any organisation is to develop successful programs that adapt to the changing employee definitions of these needs.

Financial security: A competitive compensation package is critical to attracting and retaining talent and, interestingly, is closely linked to the three other needs. Millennials would like to live near where they work, give back to the community, travel, acquire new technology and avoid debt. They seek higher salary levels as they progress, but they have a different definition of what progression means. Millennials believe that financial security will come from advancement opportunities following their acquisition of new skills.

Career success: In late 2016, ManpowerGroup released its Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision report.  The report was based on surveys of 19,000 millennials, including 8,000 ManpowerGroup associates in 25 countries. Only 22 percent of those who answered the survey ranked ‘aspiring to lead’ as a top priority. Millennials don’t necessarily aspire to lead others to be successful but instead, to be recognized as highly qualified in their field. They desire to make a positive contribution, work with great people, and have the opportunity to grow their talents in a skill-based economy.

Work/life balance: The term means different things to different people. And, the ability to achieve it is always going to be influenced by the chosen career, including factors such as the nature of the industry and seasonal demands. Millennials, in general, have learned from their parents ‘mistakes’ and want to do a better job achieving good balance between their work and personal lives. Although they are constantly connected to work, they place a premium on their time outside of work. They are multi-taskers and want to be trusted to get their work done – which is not the same as being managed.

Work for an ethical organisation: All of us expect to work for organisations that do the right things, treat people fairly, and abide by rules and regulations. The advent of shareholder and director activism, as well as the challenges of living in a globally connected world, has expanded the meaning of “doing the right thing”. Every member of a workforce has opinions on geopolitical topics, corporate social responsibility, and gender/racial equity. However, while organisations cannot be all things to all workers, successful organisations strive to create environments where like-minded people can work on not only internal but also external projects that fuel their passions.

The Opportunity

Forward-thinking corporate audit functions and their organisations have a unique opportunity to create a work environment designed to attract and retain top talent. The millennial workforce has a strong desire to learn and apply new skills. They have also grown up on the cutting edge of new technologies and are excited to leverage them to increase their productivity. And, they enjoy working in collaborative environments to learn new skills and solve challenging problems…while continuing to achieve the balance they desire.

Corporate audit functions can serve as an incubator within organisations by trying new approaches to attract and develop talent. Audit is an area where millennials can develop and sharpen their skills related to learning a business, interviewing, root cause analysis, critical thinking, problem-solving, project management, and oral and written communications – all skills critical to success in the global environment. This learning can take place through a combination of hands-on experience, collaboration with others, mentoring, formal training programs and access to internal and external networking opportunities aligned with their interests.

Millennials bring a desire to learn and grow, and a predisposition to embrace and explore new technology.  When you align technologically literate people with experienced individuals who understand your business and its processes, possibilities abound to improve audit efficiency and coverage through the leverage of Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation. There is value to both the function and the organisation as knowledge/technology workers are developed who can solve problems across the business.

The Challenge

There are opportunities here for companies but not without some challenges to either the current culture or the business model. Perhaps the most difficult is work/life balance as it means different things to different people. It could mean a desire to work four 10-hour-days a week, or to not work late or weekends, or the desire to travel either less or not at all.

Because audit work is often structured with clear deadlines that require people to be on-site, most professionals generally understand this when they accept audit roles. Travel is part of the core of what we do, as there is tremendous value in being at a location observing operations and developing relationships with the auditee. The challenge is to make the time on-site more efficient by leveraging technology that facilitates concentration on high-risk transactions and audit focus areas. Then when audit staffs return from the road, it’s going to be important to provide them with the flexibility to work remotely as long as project completion deadlines are met.

While internal audit departments have flexibility to provide workers with opportunities to learn and grow, it is also important they are able to operate within a broader corporate culture that affords team members access to opportunities to volunteer outside of work with charities and professional organizations aligned with their personal and professional interests.

Conclusion

Compensation alone is not the driving force in attracting and retaining talent.  Savvy organisations are increasingly learning how to transform themselves into places where people want to work. We live in a time where managing top talent is getting more and more focus as a top enterprise risk and, as such, is now a growing area of boardroom focus and is even being added as a topic at Audit Committee meetings. Corporate Audit can be a key player in this transformation by partnering with HR in the development and implementation of cultural shifts and programs that meet the needs of millennial hires and further the development of finance talent.