Skip to Content

Mind of Jacka: What the Client Wants

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Apr 11, 2024

Why does internal audit exist? More specifically, why does your internal audit department exist? What is it trying to accomplish? What is it meant to do? Why should anyone outside the department care? In fact, does anyone outside the department care? What do you provide to your clients and customers? Do they even want it?

Referencing the quote by Theodore Levitt, which leads this whole thing off: Are you selling audits, assurance, and reports about quarter-inch drills when what your customers want, and need is information on the quarter-inch hole?

Find those questions a little scary? Well, you should, because they are asked by few internal audit departments. Even worse, many departments don’t understand why they are so important.

If it helps, think about this one. Just as the quarter-inch drill is just a tool to build a quarter-inch hole, internal audit is just a tool to build…what?

One of the more entertaining exercises I have been involved with is asking members of the internal audit department to quote their vision/mission statement. It is entertaining watching them stammer and stutter, killing time as they helplessly and hopelessly search their computers for the answer.

Once they finally extract some semblance of that statement, I ask them to state the department’s objectives. Generally, they do a little better, although it often leads to a discussion about the differences among objectives, goals, strategies, metrics, and other terms we glibly use when we try to explain what our department and the internal auditors therein are supposed to accomplish.

With the vision statement and objectives out of the way, it’s time to dig into the really tough questions — in particular, determining what their customers want. This often starts with the just-as-tough challenge of determining their customers and providing interesting insight into the way the department operates and how it views its clients. In identifying and understanding what the customers and clients truly want, auditors often hit the biggest stumbling block — reframing their own perceptions of need away from what the department needs to what it is the clients actually need. These are very different things.

With any luck, it is at this point that the flash of insight occurs. When we compare our goals, metrics, strategies, etc., to what the customer wants, surprise, surprise, surprise, there is a significant gap.

We find that we are selling quarter-inch drills to people who want quarter-inch holes.

I suggest you go through this little exercise within your own department. While the self-analysis is important, I would suggest that, right at the start, you dig and look outside the department. Go to your customers/clients and have a conversation about what they would like from internal audit (besides being left alone.)

Then do that deep self-inspection and find out: 1) If what you deliver matches what they want, and 2) If your measures of success actually relate to what your clients want rather than what you think is so important.

I fully understand that, in some instances, customers may not know they need a quarter-inch hole. And, in that case, it is the salesman’s job to help the customer understand that need. Similarly, we have customers who do not understand they need the services that internal audit provides.

But, just as you can’t convince a customer they need a drill until they understand the need for the hole, neither can we convince our customers of the need for assurance, controls, and risk management until they understand what those results might mean to their success.

We need to refocus our efforts away from what we think is important to what the customer really needs. Don’t sell internal audit’s drill; sell your customers the quarter-inch hole our services provide.

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.