The development of professional scepticism through skilled intuition in the auditing profession. A feedback culture perspective


Therese Grohnert, Wim Gijselaers and Roger Meuwissen

Further information

Introduction and position in the current literature
Many professionals offer judgments as a main product to their clients, such as doctors, lawyers and auditors. The hierarchical structures of many organizations are built on the assumption that individuals with more experience and confidence in their ability, as well as certain traits, such as professional skepticism, are enabled to make better judgments. However, accounting scandals of the past decade have cast doubt on this assertion.

Research questions & hypothesis
In this collaborative study of ERD and AIM, supported by NSI and a Big4 audit company, a case study and questionnaire approach was used to demonstrate that neither work experience, nor confidence, nor professional skepticism are reliable predictors of judgment quality. Instead, auditors who had not only routine, but also critical experience (such as discovering an error, struggling with a client or finding cues of fraud), combined with the opportunity to learn from these experiences in a supportive learning climate, valuable feedback and reflection, made significantly higher-quality judgments than auditors who lacked any of the previous factors. Hence, making high-quality judgments is learned behavior that does not develop automatically from experience, but through informal learning at the workplace.

Research methods
Audit firms benefit from this conceptualization of judgment behavior as a learning & development, rather than a selection & hiring problem. Hence, audit firms should invest in designing a supportive learning environment for their employees enabling them to learn not jut from their own, but each other’s experiences, through an open learning climate, valuable feedback and reflection. These mechanisms can be integrated into daily practice, through minimalistic interventions like pre-mortem briefings and after-action reviews.


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