Published: May 26, 2021

Do you ever wonder if a key control can be a person? Maybe you have a long-standing employee that everyone goes to for answers, or perhaps an employee that really knows and understands a certain process. People are most certainly an important part of the control system, and governments benefit from these valuable employees that contribute so much.

When asked about your internal controls by an auditor, however, your response should not be the name of a person. An internal control process should not rest on a single person. Rather, the control is related to what that knowledgeable person does in order to meet the objective.

If your organization relies heavily on certain employees to carry out your internal control processes, take steps to make sure you’re covered should one or more key people leave. With the current trend of baby boomer retirements, this might just be the perfect time to reevaluate your internal control systems. Consider these four tips:

Document your control systems

Create a how-to: The employee really isn’t your key control, it’s something they do. Have you identified those tasks? Write them down in a desk procedure, a flow chart or a narrative. A desk procedure describes step-by-step how certain duties or processes are performed. It can be helpful to include screen grabs if it involves use of a software application.

Maintain evidence it was done: You’ll also want documentation that the steps were performed, and this can be built into the how-to procedure so staff know how to do it. A c checklist is an example of a tool you can use to capture all the steps completed for a process. Other options might be logging information into a spreadsheet, or sending an email that something has been reviewed along with the results.

Cross train other staff

Build in cross-training or duty rotations when an employee does something important. Prepare for change by having the key employee teach and oversee another in their assigned tasks. Have the staff in training use the step-by-step procedures you created, and based on their experience and feedback, evaluate where you can make improvements. Arrange for the employee in training to fill in for the key employee periodically. You could also consider having the key employee provide trainings to an entire department or multiple departments.

Capture the history by listening

History provides us with the context to understand where we are now, what worked and what didn’t in the past. Some of your seasoned employees have a lot of history and experience that is valuable to your organization. Repeating the same tasks every day makes it easy for us to remember, but it’s equally important to have the process written down – even if it comes naturally to certain employees. Spend time listening and asking questions. Try to get as much historical perspective as you can before you lose it.

Create documentation repositories

Sometimes employees document information in places that are familiar to them, but others struggle to find this information when they are gone. In order to facilitate an easy transition, make sure you have a system in place to organize and store documentation. In addition, encourage periodic file cleanup so that information is in good form when it comes time for a hand-off.

Resources that might help you

For more information about documenting your internal controls, read our recent blog post
In our new remote work world, are your key controls ready for audit? Remember, we are here to help. If you have specific technical accounting questions, submit them using our HelpDesk in the client portal. We also have financial management specialists at the Center for Government Innovation available to talk through projects you might be working on that affect your internal control systems. Reach out to us at Center@sao.wa.gov.

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