The auditor learning curve: professional development through learning from errors and coaching

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisInternal

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This dissertation started with the observation that enhancing employees’ learning and professional development is a top priority for many organizations. It plays a key role in an organization’s survival and success. However, learning goes along with experiencing errors. This calls for an understanding of how and when employees’ learning (from errors) and professional development requires support.
The current dissertation explored two main research questions: (1) what are the necessary conditions enabling young professionals to learn from their own errors? and (2) when and how do supervisors invest in young professionals to help them in their learning and development process?
Four studies were conducted in the complex and dynamic field of auditing; a domain in which making errors needs to be prevented and has severe consequences.
The results of these studies yielded two important insights. First, it was found that making errors does not automatically trigger learning. Two important conditions must be met: (1) young professionals need to perceive their work environment as tolerant (but not permissive) towards errors, and (2) supervisors need to create opportunities (e.g. the provision of timely and elaborate feedback) for young professionals, which allow them to analyze causes of errors and to learn from what has happened.
Second, it was found that supervisors tailor their provision of learning opportunities to their perceptions of the supervisee: this includes their perceptions of a supervisee’s performance reputation and the supervisee’s likelihood to return under their supervision. Results revealed that especially supervisees with a low-performance reputation, and who are unlikely to return under their supervision, received significantly fewer opportunities for learning and professional development. These findings show that depending on how supervisors perceive the performance level of their supervisees they will put more or less effort into supervision. In addition, when not returning under their supervision, supervisors will invest less in young professionals.
This dissertation concludes that organizations play a vital role in creating effective coaching and development practices, such that supervisees receive equal opportunities for learning and development. It is recommended that policies for formally rewarding effective coaching are developed. Finally, it is advised that organizations expect from supervisors that assigning supervision time (e.g. the provision of learning opportunities) for young professionals is part of their role.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Maastricht University
  • Gijselaers, Wim, Supervisor
  • Meuwissen, Roger, Supervisor
  • Grohnert, Therese, Co-Supervisor
Award date18 Mar 2022
Place of PublicationMaastricht
Print ISBNs9789464236552
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Learning from errors
  • Professional development
  • Audit profession
  • direct supervisor behaviors

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