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Research: Seniors Give Better Review Comments If They Think the Staff Will Stick Around

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I think I have something interesting for you today.

Fresh academic research has found that audit seniors are more likely to offer better constructive feedback and coaching to their juniors via review comments if the seniors think they’ll be working with that staff again. The paper “Coaching Today’s Auditors: What Causes Reviewers to Adopt a More Developmental Approach?” was published in Volume 112 of the journal Accounting, Organizations and Society and authored by Lindsay M. Andiola (Virginia Commonwealth University), Joseph F. Brazel (North Carolina State University), Denise Hanes Downey (Villanova University), and Tammie J. Schaefer (University of Missouri – Kansas City).

The researchers’ experiment considered not only local teams but international ones, an important aspect given the rapid globalization of professional services and key to this specific study. “[T]his study is the first to consider how reviewers contribute to the poor audit quality observed on some engagements involving international auditors,” wrote the researchers in the intro. If we read too deep into that, it sounds like they’re saying seniors are at least partially to blame for poor audit work performed by offshore staff because they can’t be arsed to correct their mistakes but we won’t get into that.

The abstract:

Audit workpaper review is a quality control mechanism intended to detect preparer errors and professionally develop preparers. In this study, we experimentally investigate two factors that theory predicts affect the degree to which audit reviewers adopt a developmental approach: local versus international preparer office affiliation and likely versus unlikely preparer recurrence. We find that reviewers adopt a less developmental approach for international preparers but a more developmental approach for preparers likely to recur. The adoption of a more developmental approach not only results in more coaching via review comments but is associated with greater detection of seeded preparer errors. Taken together, our findings highlight the susceptibility of quality control efforts in the global audit environment and identify recurrence as a potential intervention.

Abstract of “Coaching Today’s auditors: What causes reviewers to adopt a more developmental approach?” [ScienceDirect]

And here’s what they did:

To test our hypotheses and examine our research questions, we conducted an experiment where 136 practicing audit seniors completed a workpaper review of a preparer’s search for unrecorded liabilities. We manipulated the preparer’s office affiliation (local or international) and the likelihood of preparer recurrence (likely or unlikely) in a 2 × 2 between-participants design. Participants received information about the engagement and the preparer, followed by the preparer’s workpaper and supporting evidence. While performing their review, participants could leave review comments for the preparer and make changes to the workpaper. Following the task, participants explained their review approach and completed a post-experimental questionnaire.

As predicted, reviewers focus more on the professional development of preparers who are local instead of international. Also, regardless of office affiliation, reviewers are more apt to adopt a developmental approach when preparers are more likely to recur. Importantly, this developmental approach increases their provision of coaching-oriented review comments. These review comments, in turn, are positively associated with greater reviewer detection of seeded preparer errors. Thus, the developmental and instrumental aspects of review – professional development and error detection – are complementary in our experiment. In addition, reviewers’ performance assessments are driven by their identification of errors and not by how much they choose to professionally develop the preparer through review comments.

Co-author Joseph Brazel elaborates in Phys.org:

“We found that senior auditors were more likely to explain errors and provide coaching when the staff person was in their local office,” he said. “However, the biggest effect we saw was that coaching was much better if senior auditors thought the staff person was likely to work on the client again—regardless of where they were located.

“In cases where senior auditors seemed unlikely to work with a staff person again, they sometimes didn’t even let the staffer know they’d made a mistake—the senior auditor just fixed the mistake themselves without mentioning it.

“We also found that the senior auditors who were better coaches—providing more meaningful, constructive feedback—were also more likely to identify errors in the staffer’s work. Senior auditors who put in the time to professionally develop a staffer also appear to be thinking more deeply about the work and recognizing errors that other senior auditors often missed. The tasks of coaching and quality control complemented each other.”

Brazel said the research offers an important takeaway for early-career staff. “If you want coaching that will help you get better in your profession, let the folks reviewing your work know that you want to work with them again,” he said. “This incentivizes them to train you to the best of their ability.”

One thought on “Research: Seniors Give Better Review Comments If They Think the Staff Will Stick Around

  1. I started to get suspicious of this study when I noticed it was conducted by a “Captain Obvious”, if that’s even his or her real name.

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