What Internal Auditors Can Learn from Sports

As we begin year 2021, a few thoughts have crossed my mind and I would like to share them with my fellow internal auditors as we plan for the future. Most of us were caught off guard by the significant strain the pandemic had on our work, families and our plans for the future. However, one thing is certain, we will not follow our old ways. Our audit plans, skill sets, and execution will need to be adjusted significantly as we strive to add value to our key stakeholders. This will need deliberate efforts. To quote Lynda Gratton’s article in the MIT SLOAN journal published on the 8th of July 2019, “…we may not know for sure which jobs will be destroyed and what will be created, but one thing is clear: Everyone, whatever their age, will at some point have to spend time either re-skilling or upskilling. Every conceivable job will have new technologies to learn and new personal relationships to navigate….”.  Internal auditors are not an exception to this rule, and we can learn from great sports teams and how they cope with competition and the environment as it evolves around them. As internal auditors our benchmark for progression is the competence framework https://global.theiia.org/standards-guidance/Pages/Internal-Audit-Competency-Framework.aspx. Here are the suggestions on how best we can evolve and stay in the competition.


Internal auditors need to demonstrate professionalism at work. While we strive to add value to an organization, our behavior outside work is equally important as our behavior when we work. Professional athletes make sacrifices year in and year out to remain at the top of their game and to keep their sponsorship deals and image rights. Our endorsements come from our senior managements, boards, external auditors and other key stakeholders directly involved in our work. Therefore, our ethical stand and values should be unquestionable. We should stick to the Code of Ethics of internal auditors as a minimum requirement. A model athlete will exercise every day, study opponents and learn new skills to improve their games, which is well illustrated in the documentary, “The Last Dance”, following the mighty Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s under the leadership of Michael Jordan. As internal auditors we need to identify skills that will make us improve our game. Becoming a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is a step forward in demonstrating your credibility which is essential to be perceived as professional internal auditor. If you are already certified, a new certification or learning a new skill for 2021 will solidify your leadership within the profession.


While a professional basketballer needs to develop shooting skills, defense tactics, pass distributions and scoring tactics, as internal auditors we need to model our skills in the performance of our work. An internal audit team collectively should be able to provide assurance and consulting work in organization governance, internal control, risk management and fraud at minimum. While there is a lot to be desired in the planning, execution and reporting of our work, IIA have published a number of free resources to members to guide the process. However, based on my experience, internal auditors are still struggling to grasp and apply knowledge on risk management and fraud which eventually impacts how risk-based audit plan is prepared and executed. IIA developed Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA) to bridge the gap and increase more coverage of risk management in our assurance and consulting and work. A joint publication of IIA and ACFE is also available on Fraud Risk Management Guide to upskill or complement our knowledge in that area while considering adding a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) credential to your name would add the much-needed skills in the area of fraud. While organization governance is an area which is well understood in theory, the coverage of internal auditors in this area needs to be improved significantly. I would recommend an essential reading from IIA UK on audit of Corporate Governance which is available for download from their website for free as a starting point but also, we should ensure our audit plans are balanced to cover all key areas as required by the definition of internal audit and our mission statement.

Great players let the result speak for themselves especially at the biggest stages and Internal Auditors, let our performance in 2021 speak for itself. Let us rise to our greatest challenges in 2021.


While we may have vast knowledge in areas required to demonstrate our performance, understanding the process in which our organizations set goals and objectives, internal and external context in value creation and preservation, and their responsibilities to society will take us to the next level of our competence. You may have many good teams at the end of the season but only one team which demonstrated adequate professionalism, delivered consistency in performance and understood the environment in which they compete will end up with the trophy. This is a process which involves taking defeats as the learning point and working on your weaknesses instead of pointing fingers.

Leadership and communication.

Uncertain times requires good leadership and communication. While Michael Jordan was known by fans because of his work on the field, he was known by his teammates for walking the talk, being a strong and assertive leader and the quest to be his best version each day. He would shake every player’s hand after a win to appreciate the work done and he would let everyone be aware after a bad and demand improvements. He was more than a player and his ability to lead, communicate and influence the team on and off the pitch was second to none.

As internal auditors we have the role not only to provide leadership to our teams but also to our organizations. More is expected from us during this unprecedented era. Our ability to lead, influence, communicate and contribute to the strategic mission and vision of our organizations will be required more. The future is now, don’t stuck in the middle. Resilience, agility and collaboration will be the essential skills now and then for internal audit leaders.

For clarification and questions: info@kepler.co.tz