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Mind of Jacka: The Divot of Complacency

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU May 01, 2020

In one of his books (the name of which I will not share because it is just close enough to profanity that I believe it better you discover that name yourself), James Victore describes a discussion he had with one of his students.

He hated his job. He worked [in a place where], he said, everyone else was equally unhappy. That evening, he walked into his apartment and saw, smack dab in the middle of his leather sectional couch, a divot — directly across from the TV. He realized he was a prisoner of his comfortable apartment. Locked in by a decent mortgage rate paid for by a cushy job … golden handcuffs and all.

Now, if you have read much of anything about happiness and becoming trapped in complacency, you have heard similar stories. And I would say that, if you don’t like your life but are trapped by … well, whatever you think you are trapped by … get out.

Specifically, if you don’t like working in internal audit or you don’t like the organization, then don’t let yourself get trapped by the various handcuffs that only exist in your imagination. (Said it before; I’ll say it again. I liked what I was doing, in spite of various hiccups, issues, and people. It was the handcuffs of actually liking what I did that kept me in the job.) And, even in this time of uncertainty, take a good, hard look around and, if you aren’t happy where you’re working, look for a solution.

But let me put this a different way. Do you enjoy the work you are doing in internal audit? Not the job, but the work that is being done?

It seems that all auditors, at some point in their careers, hit the runner’s wall. They have been working hard and they know they are moving forward. But it feels like, no matter how much good work internal audit does, there’s always something else going wrong — an ignored control, a missed risk, a constant feeling that putting out one fire only leads to another. “We keep having findings and nothing changes.”

When my auditors would approach me with this lament, I would first warn them that this often seemed the case. And the good news was that we would never be out of a job. But I also advised them that, if they looked around hard enough, they would find change. Maybe not the seismic change we dreamed of. But change, nonetheless. And, trust me, I always had a few examples in my back pocket.

However, if you look around at your situation and don’t see change, no matter how incremental, the problem, more than likely, is that you are doing the same thing over and over again — the same audits, the same tests, the same reports, the same departments, the same accounts, the same people, the same old same old.

That means there is a good chance the department is not allowing itself to evolve. It has built its own divot of complacency within the sofa of the organization because of what it fears it might lose — raises, security, camaraderie, jobs, any of the trappings that make people feel comfortable. The department may be handcuffed by familiarity and the fear of stepping out into something new.

If you look through white papers and reports describing what executives, boards, and chief audit executives want from their internal audit departments, there is a consistent clamoring for internal audit to expand — to look into areas where it has never looked; to explore areas where new risks are evolving; to do something new, different, and valuable. And yet, it also is apparent from those reports that a significant number of internal audit departments are not taking up this challenge, that they are perfectly happy sitting in their complacency divots.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy made a famous speech regarding the U.S. space program.:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

Every internal auditor should be looking for the hard things to do. Yes, there are still a lot of the same-old audits that need to be completed. Some risks never change. But there are a lot of important but harder ones to be completed, also. Among many other things, the impact of COVID-19 on all operations has shown us that internal audit has some real challenges ahead. And snuggling into that comfortable divot we built from sitting in the same place for so long will not cut it anymore.

No, it won’t be easy. But it shouldn’t be. And if that means ruffling a few feathers and shocking those who think internal audit can or should not be there, well, so be it. We are not here to make friends, we are not here to kowtow, and we are not here to be complacent.

We are here to make a difference and help the organization succeed … in spite of itself.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Mike Jacka is co-founder and chief creative pilot of Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.