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And the Soft Skills Keep Getting Harder

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Jun 12, 2020

I like these blog entries to consist of thoughts and ideas on how the profession of internal audit (and the professionals within that profession) can accomplish more.

That means that, as much as possible, I try to give some answers. They may be made up on the fly and, far too often, incorrect, but, nonetheless, they are answers. And, at the very least, I try to point out a possible general direction.

Well, this time, I got nothing. I don't know the answer, and I can't even make one up. All I can do is point out the problem, tie it up in a nice little bow, and throw it over your fence.

Just a warning.

Internal audit leaders (and, to be fair, leaders everywhere) are consistently indicating that the most important skills for all their employees — new, seasoned, front-line, management, executive — are soft skills. Various studies from various sources show various soft skills sitting right on the top of internal audit executives' wish lists. Skills like communication, critical thinking, relationship building, and conflict management represent the beginning of a very long inventory.

For those of us who dabble — and others who do a whole lot more than dabble — in the field of training, this has been evidenced by a long-time, ever-increasing uptick in requests for this type of training. Personally, while I still get requests for training in technical skills (report writing, operational auditing, etc.), these are being outstripped by requests for training in areas like creativity, leadership, and even entrepreneurial auditing.

And then — as every pundit, author, and cheap scrivener now says — the world changed.

As people sat at home trying to figure out what was happening, how to cope, and how to adjust, an opportunity arose for many to catch up on their training. In addition, there were a lot of new areas where training was needed — new risks in the time of COVID-19, how to audit the new risks related to COVID-19, how to manage people remotely, how to cope with working from home, how to place a ring light so you look really good in those video conferences, that sort of thing.

But there appears to be an important aspect of training related to this new reality that is missing. That is how to adapt our knowledge of soft skills to a new environment that, frankly, does not lend itself to those soft skills. Relationship building can no longer rely on running into people in the hallway or grabbing a quick lunch. Listening skills can no longer rely on the full range of verbal and nonverbal clues that lead to better understanding. And overall communication is hindered by video delays, computer snafus, and always wondering if someone is wearing dress pants or pajamas.

That is the training we now all need — how the soft skills we already know can be adapted.

And, as I warned, here's the anticlimax. I got nothing. And I've seen no evidence that anyone else does, either. Or, maybe we just haven't had enough time to know it is an issue. But I would suggest to anyone and everyone, look for opportunities to learn and to share how best to do the hard work on the new soft skills.

The profession is made better when we all work together toward solutions for the profession. And this seems to be a problem just waiting for us all to jump in and help.

If you know something, share something.

(And, yeah, there's probably a fortune to be made by the trainers who sweep in with a solution. Just remember to give me my cut.)

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

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