Leadership Changes Are Coming! Are You Ready?

I recently returned from a trip to Europe with my husband. We had a lovely time visiting ancient churches, viewing many of the world’s treasures, and sampling too much local cuisine. One of the traditions I observed during the London leg of our trip was the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Every morning, the red-coated palace guards announce their shift change to much procession and fanfare. They march in precise formations while drums rattle and trumpets blare. You have to hand it to the Brits, they are the masters of tradition and ceremony!

If only the corporate world were this orderly when change is upon us. In reality, high-level leadership changes can throw everything you know and expect at work out the window! Leadership changes can be particularly life-altering if you work in a small or mid-sized company.

Today, I want to talk about Internal Audit coping with top-level leadership changes. What can auditors expect after the announcement of a change? What should you do to prepare for coming changes, and in what order of priority?

Don’t Panic!

When a CEO, Chief Audit Executive, Board, or Audit Committee change has been announced, the first instinct is often to fret. Imaginations run wild, and people are understandably nervous. The folks at work who love office politics will start speculating, making those around them even more anxious. 

Stay out of this mess! Worrying and expressing anxiety about the future does absolutely no good. Listening to the musings of people who have no more information or insight than you do is a waste of time. If a group of peers start speculating, excuse yourself in a tactful way. If an email stream with theories and gossip pops up in your inbox, ignore it. This is a time when your words and actions really count, and your leadership as an auditor is needed. Be an example of rising above the fray. 

If you have employees and they express apprehension about the future, you should listen to their concerns and show empathy. Allow them to vent, but don’t make promises you can’t keep, or assurances you couldn’t possibly give. Tell them your plan for the transition, and recruit the entire team in your efforts to put your best foot forward. 

This leads me to my next piece of advice…

Get Your House in Order

Every auditor has a to do list (or pile), and it’s never truly “completed.” A leadership change is an opportunity to take a critical look at your outstanding items, re-prioritize, and tackle them with renewed energy. When you have that first meeting with the new boss, do you want to tell them about all the awesome things you are planning on doing, or give them a detailed account of your triumphs?

This is a time to make sure your governing documents are updated and accurate. Download The Audit Library’s Internal Audit Policy, Internal Audit Procedural Manual, and Internal Audit Charter if you need a little help here. This is exactly the type of project that is easy to postpone, but will be expected when the new boss arrives. Be prepared to discuss your general work style, priorities, schedule, plan, and goals. Have your audit plan, recent reports, and the current issue tracking report on hand in case you need to get into details on short notice.

Consider your new boss, and put yourself in their shoes. That person is smart and qualified enough to get the top job at your company, or be recruited to the Board or Audit Committee. They have some ideas about where the risks are and what people should be doing. Make sure you have some work to show on the top 2 or 3 projects you will likely be asked about. Find out as much as you can about them, using Google and LinkedIn, to help you make educated guesses about their passion points.

Set Positive Expectations

One of the best things you can do during this time is be positive about the future. Being positive does not mean you will ignore reality. It means that you are choosing to be optimistic about the unknown. Optimism and positivity take a lot less mental energy than cynicism and dread, so this mind frame will benefit your work as well as your psyche. 

I’m fortunate to be a generally optimistic person, and I believe this is more of a personality trait than a conscious decision. If you’re just a more skeptical or pessimistic type, try to shift your outlook as much as possible. For the good of your team, keep any negative feelings to yourself. Gratitude journaling sounds cheesy, but it is an effective tool to remind you of all the good things in your life. Prayer and meditation, depending on your personal beliefs, can keep you centered and put it all in perspective.

The new boss might be absolutely horrible. They also might be the best leader you will ever work with. During the announcement and transition phases, you simply don’t know what to expect. Why not expect the positive? 

Be Patient

If you are going through a CEO change, once they arrive, they will have a very full plate. People to meet, sites to tour, meetings to attend, and so on. Having a sit down with Internal Audit may not be their top priority. As anxious as you are to have a one on one with your new boss, accept that you’ll be waiting a while. Use that time to tackle your to-do list. Stay productive, and don’t worry about others getting face time before you do. You’ll get plenty of it before long!

Another reason they might not come banging on your door right away is basic practicality. Internal Audit knows a lot of things. A new leader could very fairly decide to form their own impressions before getting the scoop from Internal Audit.

Ask Questions

Your first meeting with the new boss has finally arrived! What should you talk about? Chances are, the hour will fly by just going over the basics and making niceties. Here are some questions to pose, if time allows:

  • What are their top three concerns about the company?
  • What were their past experiences and interactions with auditors like?
  • How much communication from Internal Audit would they prefer?
  • How can Internal Audit provide support during this transition?

The general theme of this conversation should be teamwork. Management and Internal Audit are on the same team with very different roles. You are figuring out how to work together and support the company. Ask questions that show you are thoughtful, caring, and professional. You can get into the weeds later on.

Be Honest

During the first few meetings with your new boss, your main priority is building trust. Hopefully, this is the start of a long and productive working relationship. One of the best ways to build trust early on is to be completely honest. Be truthful about your blind spots, and the challenges your department faces. Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know something. You’re an auditor, not a robot!

While being honest is the right approach when difficult topics and issues come up, how you state something can make a huge difference. Don’t get defensive, or state a negative in a resigned tone of voice. Any statement can be tweaked to sound more positive and proactive, while still being truthful.

Forget the Past

My final piece of advice is to go into this new relationship with a completely blank slate. If your last CEO or leader relationship was difficult, do your best to let this go and move on. Leaders are constantly multi-tasking, under a lot of pressure, and have limited time. They do not want to hear about how bad your last boss was or the difficulties you encountered. With each question that they ask you, they are more interested in what the future holds and how you plan to address issues, than how issues were handled in the past.

While you may be doing your best to stay positive, look towards the future, and address issues proactively, sometimes a conversation about past decisions and circumstances will still be necessary. The past is prologue, and often relevant to whatever topic is being discussed. Practice making statements about the past in as few words as possible, and as objectively as you can.

Readers, have you experienced a top-level leadership change?  Do you agree with this advice? What advice would you offer to your peers?  Leave a comment and let us know!

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