The audit review process is a key quality control mechanism. Recent evidence from practice suggests that regulatory risk has made reviews more critical, and audit supervisors are struggling with how to effectively deliver the “tough message”. We contribute to the audit review literature by providing an in-depth understanding of the subordinate's perspective, focusing on the understudied topic of negative feedback and factors that might moderate its effects. We investigate these issues using an experiential questionnaire soliciting subordinate auditors' reactions to highly salient actual review experiences. We find both adverse and beneficial reactions to more negative feedback, including worse attitudes toward coaching relationships, more attempts to manage supervisors' impressions, but greater performance improvement efforts. These reactions are moderated by the subordinate auditor's feedback orientation (i.e., receptivity), and sometimes by the supervisor's goal framing (i.e., emphasis on learning versus performance). Collectively, participants more often chose engagement over workpaper reviews to represent their most salient experiences, and some results differ between these review contexts. Qualitative analysis identifies both similarities and differences in key attributes of these review types. These results are important, as the audit review literature predominately considers workpaper review, and no study compares the two review contexts.
The learning environment in the auditing profession is characterized as an apprenticeship model in which on-the-job learning is required in order to acquire professional knowledge and move up the organizational hierarchy (Westermann, Bedard, & Earley, 2015). A key component of this learning is the formal audit review process, which provides auditors with developmental feedback (Andiola, 2014; Trotman, Bauer, & Humphreys, 2015). Consistent with the critical role that review plays in audit firm quality control, over 30 percent of supervisors' hours are allocated to review and about 20 percent of review time is spent coaching subordinates (Fargher, Mayorga, & Trotman, 2005; Jenkins, Ater, Gimbar, Saucedo, & Wright, 2017). Research in organizational behavior finds that supervisors are often concerned about providing criticism to subordinates, as it may reduce employee satisfaction and lead to counterproductive behaviors (Belschak & Den Hartog, 2009; Brown, Kulik, & Lim, 2016). This concern resonates with the current situation in audit practice. More stringent regulatory regimes have put pressure on firms to ensure that their personnel meet high performance standards (Westermann, Cohen, & Trompeter, 2017), which has amplified the need for negative feedback. However, audit supervisors struggle with how to deliver the “tough message” (i.e., negative feedback) in this environment, worrying that some form of subordinate retaliation or turnover will occur (Kornberger, Justesen, & Mouritsen, 2011; Westermann et al., 2015). This is consistent with criticism by regulators that the review process may not be operating at an optimal level, as inspection findings show that supervisors are not appropriately evaluating and supervising auditor work (PCAOB, 2013; ASIC, 2014). The purpose of this paper is to further understanding of audit review by investigating subordinates’ reactions to feedback sign (negative or positive) in the real-world audit review context, and examining whether specific person and task characteristics moderate those reactions.