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Mind of Jacka: What Do You Do Exceptionally Well?

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Apr 21, 2022

Successfully marketing your internal audit department…

Wait. Let's back up a second. You know you are in marketing, don't you? You are aware that you market your internal audit department with everything you do? You recognize that every client/customer touchpoint is an opportunity to sell the value of your department? You do? Good. Back to where we started.

Successfully marketing your internal audit department requires an understanding of the basic value you provide to your customers. (I'm just going to go with "customers" from here on out. We can argue the difference between customer and client later.) And you have to understand not only the value you think you provide, but also the value those customers think they want you to provide.

Best practice is to take that understanding of value and translate it into a value proposition – a clear statement about why an individual or department would benefit from the services internal audit provides. There is a structured approach to developing such statements that is a common practice within the marketing world. It involves understanding the service that is being sold, the customers, the competitors, and the value that those customers can receive nowhere else – in our case, the value that internal audit provides that no one else can provide.

We used a similar approach at the Farmers Insurance internal audit department, and I have used this approach when working with other groups in developing such statements. As part of this development, a number of questions are asked regarding the value and services internal audit provides. These questions eventually focus on the services and value that cannot be provided by others or, at least, cannot be provided as well. But I recently stumbled across a question that I never really thought to ask – at least, I never thought to ask it in the context of understanding the value internal audit can provide.

In her book How Creativity Rules the World, Maria Brito brings the skills she has garnered from the world of art to bear on creativity, including creativity in the business world. There are some good descriptions of the myths about creativity, the habits that lead to creativity, and exercises that stimulate creativity. Within those descriptions are interesting examples from the art world, from the business world, and from Ms. Brito's own work.

In one chapter, she writes about deconstruction as a catalyst to creativity – how understanding and isolating the parts that make up the whole can generate new ideas – and she asks these four questions:

·       What are you known for?
·       What are you exceptionally good at?
·       Would you reduce it to its most simple form?
·       What about using that core differently, in other markets or with other customers?

These are all good questions that internal auditors can ask to better understand the work they are doing and, from that understanding, do the work better. But it was the second question that really caught my attention. And it is the question that I think should be asked every time an internal audit department is determining the value it provides to the organization…if any.

To get a better perspective, let me phrase that question a little differently. What do you think you are exceptionally good at? Have you even thought about it? Can you explain it? Is it an answer based on the skills within your department or just a recitation of things you have heard internal audit is supposed to do well? When people are looking for that skill, do they turn to you? Can you state, in no uncertain terms, that you do it better than anyone else? Do you know what you are good at, great at, an expert in, have pride in?

Do you know what you are exceptionally good at?

I've always felt there are three areas of expertise for all internal auditors. And, as a part of many presentations, I've asked auditors that very question, "What are we experts at?" (And, no, I won't tell you my answers because I'm not here to lead the witness.) But, somehow, changing the question from asking about our areas of expertise to what we are exceptionally good at puts a whole different spin on the question; it becomes a different question. And I'll bet it is not one you've asked of yourself or your department.

Take a look. Find that answer. Be honest. ("We catch fraudsters." "We understand the business." "We know how the organization works." "We're really good at rewriting audit reports". "Our superpower is documenting." "Our Marvel hero would be Meeting Man.") Determine if that strength is something that the customer needs. And figure out what your strengths should be.

And then the truly tricky question. Do those all align? Do your strengths match what the customer needs? If so, then "Huzzah!!" Break out the hats and horns. However, there's a good chance something is missing; there's a good chance there's a gap. And there's a good chance you continue to strengthen strengths that have no bearing on what you need to be exceptionally good at while ignoring the areas in which customers need you to be strong.

We need to understand our strengths, the customers' desires, and the gap that lies between in order to provide services and value that everyone within the organization really desires. When we sell ourselves, we have to be sure we are not selling what we think our customers want, but what they truly need.

A couple of blog posts ago I mentioned that I had used the title "What Would You Say You Do Around Here?" at least three times. My point was that we need to do a better job of understanding the work we do and how we do it. Well, this is just one more instance of that. It is only by constantly asking ourselves about ourselves, about our customers, and about our value that we can deliver true value to the customers.

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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