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The Curse of Success

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Jul 21, 2020

Most recently, I did two pieces (here and here) on independence and objectivity as it relates to internal audit. The jury is still out on those two, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say the final combined numbers for those two posts will not equal those from the diversity post.

Of interest is the impact the diversity blog post almost had — I repeat, almost had — on subsequent posts. The numbers for that post were not the kind that meant I could suddenly sell the movie rights to "From the Mind of Jacka" and pick up that mansion I've been eyeing on the coast of Big Sur, spending afternoons drinking expensive tequilas and reveling in a hot tub full of $100 bills. (And, yes, my wife would be with me. Sheesh. You guys….) But, as noted, the numbers were more than I normally get. And such micro-success can influence anyone.

So, when I began to place virtual quill to virtual parchment with the intent of writing about independence and objectivity, those numbers were in the back of my mind. I found myself thinking (and this is not a proud moment for me), "Wait. I'll never hit those same numbers with such a boring, IA-geeky topic. I need to write about something topical, sexy, numbers-driving — something that will bring droves to my blog doorstep."

If I had succumbed, there is a chance I could have drawn many people to view that next post. The numbers might not have reached the previous pinnacle, but they might be numbers above my normal viewership.

But here's the rub. That post would, more than likely, have not been any good. It would have been written for the wrong reasons. To write trying to pander to something that didn't move me — to write to "make numbers" — would be a sacrifice to whatever standards I have (as well as the trust The IIA has put in me, no matter how misplaced that may be). And the subsequent post would have suffered because of it.

Success tries to breed success. And the results are not always successful.

Which brings us to internal auditors.

Have you ever completed an audit and, for some reason, it gets everyone's attention … in a good way? Clients praise you, executives laud you, the budget committee thinks you are worth every dime you spend, and the world believes in internal audit. OK, maybe a bit overstated. But I think we've all completed an audit and found it to resonate and be more successful than we imagined.

Do you remember what it was like starting that next audit? How hard was it to focus on the original plan, particularly if it was something less exciting — cash receipts, building security, petty cash? The mundane realities of the audit plan can make it hard to jump into the next project with the appropriate verve and vigor.

If we are not careful, a successful internal audit can lead us into one of two bad responses. The first is the desire to just cancel the next audit and find something new, exciting, sexy, and immediately praiseworthy. Such an approach ignores the work that went into the original plan. There are risks and a reason the audit is on the schedule. And, while everything should be revisited, the desire to do something in the hope that it will be as banner-worthy as that last project cannot trump the existing plan. (Petty cash? Well, that probably deserves revisiting, but I digress.) Changing the plan to simply strive for a repeated success will never work. You are trying for something that isn't really there.

The second negative response is to take the next audit project and try to make it the next big thing — extending the reach, looking too deeply, and vainly working and yearning to relive the glory days. Similarly, that will never work because you are trying to rebuild a fantasized silk purse out of a misconstrued sow's ear.

Ultimately, you cannot recreate the excitement that is generated in one instance. All you can do is continue doing the work that needs to be done — the work that is true to the department and true to the profession — at the highest level possible.

Keep working; the accolades will come. Maybe not as prolifically as you would hope, but good work begets good results. And excellent work, eventually, will gain excellent recognition.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

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