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Mind of Jacka: We Have a Lane?

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU May 16, 2024

To get me rankled, utter one phrase…

Well, actually, there’s a lot of phrases that rankle me. To really see me go off, use the word “utilize” rather than the more succinct and just as accurate “use.” But let’s get back to my current rankling.

In response to my most recent blog post regarding the need for internal auditors to no longer accept the role of second-class citizens, a commenter noted that internal audit should “stay in their own lane.” I became most exceedingly rankled.

Stay in our lane?!! What, exactly, does that mean? What is “our lane?” And, even pretending there is some “lane,” why should we stay in it?

Is our lane controls? Isn’t “controls” an all-encompassing concept that crosses all parts of the organization, horizontally and vertically?

Is our lane assurance? Isn’t “assurance” an all-encompassing concept that crosses all parts of the organization, horizontally and vertically?

Is our lane adding value? Isn’t “adding value”… (see controls and assurance above.)

Is our lane helping an organization accomplish its objectives? Isn’t… okay, I think you see where this is going.

The commenter went on to note that, “Auditors need to know when to stand down and not get down into areas where they don’t belong.” Stand down from what? And where don’t we belong? What area is there where our expertise in controls, risks, and processes is unwarranted? (Again, what lanes?)

Further, being told to stand down or get out of areas where we don’t belong smacks of thinly veiled threats regarding things people want to keep hidden from prying eyes. The number one red flag to internal auditors should be when someone tells us to stay away from a certain area. (And tune in next time for a blog post relating to courage and internal audit.)

Now, the word limits built into most comment sections make it hard for someone to lay out their entire dissertation, so allow me to provide some defense based on what I read between the lines.

One issue seems to be the involvement of internal auditors in organizational strategies, and I will be the first to say that internal auditors should not be questioning strategies developed by the organization’s leaders. With two exceptions. One: If there is no plan or a poor plan in place to ensure the strategy’s success. Two: If there is nothing to support how the strategy was developed. In both instances, questions are warranted. Not accusations, but questions.

Another issue is that internal auditors may not have the knowledge to be in all areas. The respondent mentioned auditors who are not informed of the strategies.

I can’t disagree. There are internal audit departments who do not know the organizational strategies. And the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in our audit departments. Every audit department should be constantly striving for the ephemeral seat at the table — the seat that gets to see how decisions are made and why.

But there it is again. Many internal audit departments don’t have a seat. And why is that? Because they are staying in their lanes. Because they are standing down. Because they are staying out of areas where they don’t belong. Because they are accepting their lot as second-class citizens.

My guess is many other people feel that there are appropriate “lanes” for internal audit. (For example, I’ve got a good friend who dislikes the phrase “auditing as a change agent.” Does he rankle at this? I don’t know. But I have a feeling this will be one of many topics he and two other friends — internal auditors and CIAs, all — will be discussing during our trip through Yellowstone. Don’t ask. Just be glad you won’t be there.

But I don’t see it.

If we are to be the eyes and ears of management, if we are to add value, to help ensure success, to achieve the things that internal audit states it wants to achieve, we cannot limit ourselves to the lanes where others would trap us. And, more importantly, we cannot place ourselves in those lanes, afraid and unwilling to step out and get something important done.

Addendum: I wrote, edited, rewrote, reedited, and eventually submitted this post. And then I read some more comments and realized there is, indeed, one lane we need to stay out of. That is when we lose our objectivity and become part of the process and, at its worst, become the control.

I stand corrected.

However, I still stand by everything else I said.

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.