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Internal Audit at Serco: working in partnership with the business to drive continuous improvement

“What I love about Serco is the culture of transparency and doing the right thing that underpins our approach to delivering the Group strategy. Serco knows that real trust is earned the hard way and embraces Internal Audit’s role of holding a mirror up to the Company to help identify areas for continued improvement, consistent with Serco’s Values.” 

- Nick Betts, Group Head of Internal Audit, Serco Group 

Nick Betts joined Serco in 2019, bringing 30 years’ international experience at a major professional services network and a mass media and entertainment company where he was responsible for setting up the non-US Internal Audit function.  

He was drawn to Serco by its purpose – to be a trusted partner of governments, delivering superb public services that transform outcomes and make a positive difference to our fellow citizens – and by the strength of recognition in Serco of the value that Internal Audit can bring to fulfilling that mission. 

“IA can be unpopular and regarded with suspicion in some organisations, but in Serco we’re treated as a critical friend and welcomed fresh pair of eyes that can look objectively at everything Serco does and make practical recommendations to drive improvement. We present the unvarnished truth, but in a way that’s sympathetic to business realities and open to management input. We’ve worked hard to build a constructive relationship and I think we’re largely there. We see increasing ‘pull’ for our support from management.” 

Such a strong relationship with the business is only possible with the right organisational culture in place, and that culture has evolved significantly in recent years. 

“I’ve been told that, before 2014, Serco focused on ‘good news reporting’. It was easier to hide problems than work them. It’s a dramatically different organisation today – polar opposites – and it makes what we do far more effective and enjoyable.” 

Key to that cultural shift is leadership from the top, including the Audit Committee, to whom the IA function reports. 

“The members of the Audit Committee are experienced and engaged. They have a strong relationship with management and welcome different and diverse perspectives. They look and listen closely. They seek to understand the business clearly. They raise a lot of good questions and challenges – making sure that risks are well considered, and adequately mitigated.” 

Another important element is the individual members of the Internal Audit team themselves, all of whom Nick considers to be talented catalysts for positive change. 

“We value people who are endlessly curious and have an instinct for what isn’t there – there’s a lot of questioning and hypothesising in what we do to spot gaps or weaknesses and then consider how best to plug those. We also value emotional intelligence alongside technical competence as, ultimately, we are trying to change what people do and how they operate. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it, therefore – delivering hard messages in sensitive ways that will be well received and result in a positive, lasting impact.” 

Much of that positive change is delivered through continuous improvement, which goes hand-in-hand with governance in helping Serco to meet its ambition to be the best managed company in its sector whilst making a difference every day for society and service beneficiaries. 

“We live and breathe continuous improvement in Serco – the business couldn’t survive without it. We’re a big, complex, dynamic organisation dedicated to public service – that attracts creative, can-do people who are comfortable with change and energised by challenge. From my perspective, that’s a big part of how Serco responded so well and so quickly to Covid-19. The bottom line in Serco is typically, ‘what’s right for our customers and society?’ rather than, ‘what’s right for me or for Serco?’ And, ultimately, that’s what my colleagues and I are here for, to ensure that all dimensions of governance in Serco help us to keep doing the right thing in the best way possible.”