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Mind of Jacka: Yearning

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Aug 03, 2023

How did you wind up in internal audit?

I found myself here because I’d been in accounting for six months, was bored to tears doing the same thing six times in a row, and saw the auditors having way too much fun. A job opened. I joined. I never looked back.

Our reasons for joining internal audit are probably all different, everything from “I wanted to be an internal auditor all my life” to “they were hiring.”  But here’s a bigger, better question. Why did you stay?

For me, that fun never stopped. But, beyond that, something more important happened. I learned that internal audit was a profession that not only provided great opportunities, it offered an opportunity to make the organization great.

The IIA’s official definition of internal audit says we are to add value and improve the organization’s operations. But I was taught that lesson without even knowing the IIA had anything to say about it. I had leaders who taught me the importance of our role… and lived it. They made me want to keep being an internal auditor. And, as I progressed and became one of the leaders, I tried to instill the same understanding in those working for me and those I worked with.

No, it didn’t always work. I had one auditor who believed her job was to tell people what to do. She did not last long in the profession. On the other hand, I had one who, to this day, refuses to agree with me that the work we did in the offices of our independent insurance agents provided value. (Long story. I’ll spare you. But if you’re out there Lori, I’m talking about you.) Note that, in that case, the argument was about a specific type of work. We agreed that internal audit could make a difference. That was a given.

And before going further, a quick aside. As sometimes happens, what follows seems to speak to current internal audit leadership. But if you aren’t currently a leader, listen closely. One day you will be one of those leaders. Besides, everyone at every level in internal audit gets to be a leader. So don’t pretend you aren’t.

So, how do you approach those who work for you? What are you teaching them? Or, maybe a better question, are you so mired in getting them to understand spreadsheets and interviews and tests and risks and the intricacies of getting our jobs done that they have trouble caring about any of it?

Here’s a quote for you. It has been linked to a few people, but there is no definite source. I’ll call it unknown.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather the wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

When you bring new internal auditors in, when you start working with new peers, when someone starts getting involved with internal audit externally or internally, where do you start? Do you start with the standards and the procedures? Or do you explain what it is we do? And do you explain that what we do is important? And do you explain how we make a positive impact? And do you explain — no wait, make that show — that the profession is more than the green-eyeshaded nebbishes many picture?

Do you teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea — the promise of what internal audit can be when it is at its best? Or do you plunk them in front of the procedures to make sure they know how to do the work they may never care about. We are powerful when those who work in the profession believe it to be true. And that only happens when we make sure that, while everyone knows how to gather wood, they also yearn for the joy of that promise.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.