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Mind of Jacka: Public Perceptions

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Jun 30, 2022

I recently had the pleasure of providing training to the Motorola Solutions internal audit group in Chicago. It was a great group, and I'll start with a shoutout to them for being engaged, fun, and an overall pleasure to work with. (And a shoutout to The IIA, which set up the training. I know you've heard it before, but if you are looking for training, one of the best places to start is The IIA.)

The evening after the training was over, because of my son-in-law's kvetching, I visited one of the holy grails of tikidom — Three Dots and a Dash. Tough to find, but if you are into tiki, into excellently prepared drinks, or just looking for something a little different, it is worth your while to search it out.

I was sitting at the bar with their eponymous drink in hand (that would be "Three Dots and a Dash") when I began talking with the gentleman to my right. He worked in real estate and, when I explained I was an internal auditor, he gave me a very blank look. I tried a couple of the tried-and-true explanations we all have in our quiver, such things as, No, the controls I was talking about don't have anything to do with being an engineer and Yes, we were actually a part of the organization. Eventually I either got through to him or the drink he was sipping took hold as he seemed quite understanding of the concepts I was describing. Unfortunately, I have no confidence I really got through.

He took off (I didn't take it personally) and in relatively short order, a group of young people took over that corner of the bar. (I had changed my drink of choice to the "Jet Pilot.") One of the young ladies sat next to me, introduced herself as Alexandra Kay, and the ensuing conversation led to her saying she was from Nashville. "Nashville!?" I said, "What do you play?" "Funny you should ask," she replied and explained she was a singer who had been performing over the weekend at RibFest in Chicago. Today was a day off, and she and her team — band, manager, public relations — were celebrating before they headed to their next gig in North Dakota.

She was nice enough to ask what I did and after I told her I was a fiddle player (unfortunately, she wasn't holding auditions that evening), I said I was an internal auditor.

Everyone in her group looked at me, as the old saying goes, like a monkey watching a magic trick.

I talked for a while and explained such things as reporting to the board and ensuring the success of objectives, and I felt like a couple of the people began to understand… kind of. Of course, when I mentioned something about accounting, that provided a steady point for them to moor their understanding. But once again, I could tell there was only a cursory understanding and acceptance of what I was trying to explain.

Which raises this point.

Businesspeople struggle to understand what it is we do in an organization. You know as well as I do that when we say the words "internal auditor" or mention working in an internal audit department, the recognition factor for those in the business world — the ones who should be our customers — often gets swallowed in a deep, deep well.

But when we get out into the real world — when we're talking to musicians and salespeople, and any other pursuits, positions, or professions that don't fall into our neat category of "businesspeople" — we suddenly find there are no touchpoints. They don't know what a control is (except something engineers have), they don't know risk, they don't know CIA (other than a shadowy group about which many movies are made), and they don't know what internal audit is.

I'm guessing that you have had more than one conversation — at dinner, with friends, at a bar, in a shuttle, at the airport, maybe just lounging around in your house — where you have had similarly uncommunicative conversations. If businesspeople have trouble grasping the concept of internal audit, what are the chances for the public at large?

And is that a problem?

I'd say it is. Of course, our primary challenge is making sure the business world understands what we do. But who's to say we shouldn't be doing more? I mentioned "accounting" to one individual in the bar and their eyes lit up with recognition. Similarly, say you have the CPA and there is acceptance, good will, camaraderie, and understanding everywhere. But mention internal audit (or CIA) and the silence is deafening. Even crickets keep their legs apart to refrain from making noise. That needs to change.

Can we really claim victory — victory in our campaign to be recognized as an important value-add component in business and the world — until the day we no longer spend most of our time explaining we are not with the IRS?

We have to spread the word within our organizations. But we also have to spread the word in all walks of our lives. I don't mean we start every conversation with, "I'm an auditor and let me tell you why you care." But it does mean we can talk about risk, controls, efficiency, and effectiveness in such a way that a) we are not using those actual words, b) we add value to every conversation, and c) our listeners don't even know we are proselytizing.

We must recognize that the marketing of our profession and ourselves within that profession is a never-ending battle. And it has to be fought everywhere we go. But the more we promote the foundations and concepts of internal audit, the more the connection will be made that there is a profession called internal auditor and, you know what, it does some pretty valuable things.

Well, I'm off to Denver next. And that means I will need to visit Death & Co. I wonder who I'll meet at the bar? And I wonder if they know what internal audit is?

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.

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