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Turn the Page

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Nov 10, 2020

Whew!

That's finally over. Don't know about the rest of the world, but it's been quite a week here in the States. But, after a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, it's finally over … The IIA's International Conference has come to an end.

Wait a minute. There was something else going on?

Okay, I know what you were all thinking. And I'll get there in a minute. But, first, The IIA International Conference was last week. And, as always, there were great speakers, great information, and great value for the investment. Here's to being able to hold these conferences in person in the near future.

But, yes, there was another bit of an event going on in these here parts.

Good news. I'm not going to dig into what the U.S. elections meant, defend the actions of anyone involved, or take sides in the battles. I'm not even going to go all internal-auditor-geeky by discussing the incredibly effective controls the multiple vote-counting operations within this country have in place to ensure fair and accurate counts. (Suffice to say that hard-working people have helped ensure controls are effective.)

No, instead I want to talk about aftermaths.

Getting to where we are today, we have gone through a bit of a kerfuffle. A lot of allegations were levied; many names were called; a morass of advertising (accurate, inaccurate, misleading, and, very occasionally, accurate) clogged the airwaves; social media became a petri dish of misinformation; and we were pummeled with insinuations, innuendos, and flat-out lies.

And now it is all over. One side has "won." One side has "lost." And there are two alternatives for how each of us can respond.

The first, is to crawl into our bunkers; allow the wounds to fester; continue the lies, name-calling, and vitriol; and do everything in our power to maintain the "us versus them" mentality that only leads to more fighting.

In a perverse way it can feel good to stoke the fires, feed the hatred, and focus on the feeling "I am right, will always be right, and no other can be right." But that is the short game. It does no one any good. And it results in the vitriol becoming harsher, the battle becoming fiercer, and progress toward the overall success all sides profess to desire becoming a fantasy.

The second response is to put the past behind us and recognize that the ultimate desire of all individuals is to make things better. Yes, we may have different ways we want to get there. But we have that common desire to make things better, and each of us must recognize that common goal, reach across the gap, and work together toward success.

Okay, it really made me feel better to write that. But what does it have to do with internal audit?

Well, often we look at the broader world and learn lessons that we can apply in internal audit. But, in this instance, I like to think that internal audit can provide a lesson to the world.

Here's a question for you. After an audit is completed, what kind of relationship do you have with your clients?

Internal audit, by the nature of its work — potentially finding where things are going wrong — can be confrontational. In fact, if you haven't faced serious confrontation, then you either haven't been around very long or you aren't doing your job correctly. But the confrontation (sometimes nasty confrontation) should not impact the ability of auditors and clients to work together in the future. Internal audit's successful relationships with clients are not based on the results of any one audit, but on trust, respect, and the ability to move beyond conflict toward the common goal of the organization's success.

Snippets from 30 years:

  • I introduced myself to an insurance agent and explained I needed to complete a random audit. He screamed and stormed out of the office. He returned, I completed the audit, and he thanked me for the information he received.
  • During an exit interview (one I was not attending), the executive became uncharacteristically angry, ultimately refusing the results of the audit. I called him, we clarified what was being presented, he apologized for his reaction, and we finalized the report. There were no issues with any subsequent audits over his area.
  • The Regional Claims Manager raked us over the coals any time we presented the results of claims office reviews. No screaming, but a painful scrutinization of our methodologies and results. Despite those hazings, he continued to support internal audit and maintained friendships with several auditors.
  • Any time we presented information regarding potential frauds to the district manager responsible for one of the largest groups of agents in the company, he would fight tooth and nail for them. His support was unwavering … until we provided sufficient proof. His support would then swing 180 degrees from the agent to the auditor. And he always welcomed our involvement.

Quick stories that point out that, even when there is yelling and screaming, even when there is a fight, even when the client tests us to the limits, if we are doing do our job correctly, the professionalism and acceptance of the department itself will never be in question. When it is all said and done — when the dust has settled and the report is out the door — we are able to part as businesspeople who respect each other and the work that each of us do. And, in some cases, develop and continue friendships that continue beyond our times working together.

I believe that our profession …

No, let me take it to a more personal level. I believe that the people who do the actual work in internal audit have built a culture that is not based on who wins and who loses. Instead, there is a recognition that, done right, everyone wins. And that we all — clients and auditors — are working together to build a better organization.

We turn the page and move forward.

And that's where the title of this piece comes from, a song by Bob Seger. (And if you'd like to hear my thoughts on Bob Seger, then, as always, let's talk in the bar afterwards.) Seger's song is about musicians on tour and the drudgery of the road. It is about turning the page to focus on that next experience, rather than looking back at the past. And that message — the concept of turning the page — is relevant to internal audit and to our recent experiences here in the U.S.

Turn the page. Focusing on the battles from the past serves no purpose. Instead, look forward to the opportunities that occur as we work together, whether that be in the world of internal audit or the world at large.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

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