To date we’ve talked about reputation, the effect of disruption on operations, and the multi-faceted cause and effects related to whistleblowers. But it is time to quit focusing on risks to the organization — areas where internal audit should work with the organization to ensure its success — and start talking about events that should /can/will have an immediate impact on our own profession. Today, let’s talk about the gig economy.
The phrase “gig economy” is being thrown around a lot lately. And, as Indigo Montoya once said, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” So, let’s start by figuring out what everyone’s talking about.
It just so happens I’ve been working in the original gig economy since my college days. I’m a musician. I have played and still play in bands. And that means getting gigs — situations where someone needs music, and a band (or individual performer) is paid to fulfill that need.
Over time, the term “gig” was appropriated by other artists and, eventually, snuck into the business lexicon. Freelancers, independent contractors, and a few wacky entrepreneurs began talking about the jobs they were taking as being “gigs.” And now, technology has taken the concept and kicked it into a new stratosphere. Workers of all types have been enabled to be their own bosses, to sell their individual skills, and to work on demand. The new gig economy is based on flexible, temporary, or freelance jobs where clients and customers can use technology to connect.
And, like Ron Burgundy, it has become “kind of a big deal.” According to Investopedia, “as much as one-third of the working population is already in some gig capacity.” A lot of people are doing a lot of hustling to find a lot of work. And a lot of other people are more than willing to use a lot of those hustlers to fill a lot of jobs because that work can be done more cheaply, efficiently, or effectively than through the tried-and-true practices of antediluvian days.
Obviously, every industry, organization, occupation, and profession must watch out — the gig economy is knocking on the door. Just observe what has happened/is happening in travel, construction, design, advertising, transportation, and an ever-broadening litany of IT endeavors.
We talked about such disruptions in the second part of this series, so I won’t repeat the discussion about internal audit’s responsibility to help organizations recognize and prepare for this inevitable seismic change.
But internal auditors better be just as prepared for that apocalyptic knock on its own door. Are you ready for the moment when your organization realizes it can get its internal audit work done more efficiently, effectively, and/or cheaply by gigging internal audit?
This may all seem far-fetched. And I can’t quite imagine how it would work. Then again, I never would or could have imagined the workings of the current gig economy.
My inability to comprehend a future does not mean that future will not come into existence. And my guess is that you are suffering the same combination of disbelief and apprehension. How could this possibly work? Nonetheless, there is a more-than-good chance that someone is sorting it out right this very minute — someone inside the organization, someone outside the organization, someone we don’t even consider when we think about “internal audit services” — and is developing technologies that will allow your CEO to go to a site, click on a box, and, voila, an audit of culture is being conducted.
And your department was never involved. In such manner did dodos cease to roam the earth.
What is an auditor/audit department/audit leader to do? The first step is defensive. Make your department indispensable.
The profession faced a similar situation in the 1990s; there were a rash of outsourced internal audit departments. The departments that avoided outsourcing provide a lesson for us. Outsourcers were selling on external knowledge and cheapness. Successful internal audit departments were selling on internal knowledge, communication, and relationships. And, when the clients/executives/boards understood the value their internal audit departments were providing (a value that internal audit had been selling all along) outsourcing was not a threat.
But the real test for any internal audit department is the second step, one that derives from understanding that risk includes opportunity. (Something we often forget when working in the world of risk.)
The gig economy means people are looking for new ways to interact with their service providers. And it means people are willing to look in new, different, and unusual places to find those providers. If your department is good at what it does (and you have been spending foot-pounds of energy and precious time selling that value, so it must be true), then what else and where else can it provide that value and those services?
Step No. 2 is to gig your internal audit department.
In 1999, Tom Peters put out a small book titled Reinventing Work: The Professional Service Firm 50. It is a blueprint for understanding the real value your department has, building on that value, and becoming the professional service firm everyone within your organization turns to. (Buy this book; it will not disappoint.)
Internal audit departments must quit thinking of themselves as just another part of the corporation and become professional service firms — providing unparalleled service as though they were independent contractors whose lives depended on each and every gig.
Then, once all that value is understood, marketed, and seen by others, it is time to turn outside the company — the ultimate “gig” for the department.
Yeow! Calm down! The hue and cry from the offended and outraged are causing me great pain.
Yes, there are a million reasons why an internal audit department should not be selling its services outside of its own organization. But take a closer look at each and every one of those reasons. They are embedded in a culture of yesterday. And now it is tomorrow. And every one of those million reasons, after a bit of thought and work, can be smashed, shattered, and obliterated. And, once the excuses are dissolved and the dust is cleared, all that is left is opportunity.
Step No. 1: Sell. Sell the value of the department, focusing on the intangible that no one else can provide.
Step No. 2: Gig your department
But we’re not done yet. What of the individual internal auditor? Their opportunities come by answering two questions: What is your value and what if you were to gig yourself?
In 1997, Tom Peters (“Again, with that Tom Peters. What’s with this guy?” Read Tom’s writing and you will understand. Where was I?) In 1997, Tom Peters wrote a seminal piece for Fast Company titled “The Brand Called You.” What Peters says is that each of us, whether we be a cog in the machine or the entire machine, has to understand our personal brand and market it. “Starting today you are a brand.”
Even as an entry level internal auditor you are building a personal reputation — your brand. And, even if your plan is to be a career auditor with the same organization for 30 years (oops, that one strikes just a little too close to home), you are still building your brand. It is a brand that tells others in the department what they can expect, clients what they can expect, and executives scads about what to expect from you and the department.
And, in the new gig economy, that means you are preparing yourself for the next gig — whether that be the next internal audit, a new position within the organization, being a part of a department that has learned how to gig outside the organization, or even finding ways to gig your own services.
Well, I’m feeling all gigged out. So, let’s leave the topic. The next time we visit this series, we’re going to talk about another event from the last decade where internal audit needs to look closely at itself. And, unfortunately, it’s an area internal audit has been claiming to be working on for as long as I can remember. And we keep talking …
Next time, technology and repeating the same promises to ourselves.