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We Will Never Get Back to Normal

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Nov 20, 2020

The current ways of the world have put us all in an unusual situation.

(And, with that, Captain Obvious acknowledges the cheers of the audience, bows, and retreats to his corner.) On the one hand, we are adapting and innovating at unprecedented speeds. On the other hand, we hunker like survivalists in backyard bunkers waiting for the devastation to pass, hoping for everything to have gone back to normal when we stick our heads out of our hidey-holes.

When I have been privy to conversations regarding how things have changed, I've heard members of our profession, as well as our clients, talk about unusual times calling for unusual actions. But some then go on to say that, when things go back to normal, continuation of those actions will not be necessary. Recent example: Yesterday, someone told the story of their CEO proclaiming that, as soon as the pandemic was over (whatever that means), everyone would have to come back into the office to work.

Many genies are out of many bottles. And, having gained their freedom, we will not be able to squeeze them back in, replace the cork, and sit the bottles on the highest shelf in the back corner never expecting to hear from them again.

We can't go back. There will be no return to "normal." There will only be the discovery of what we mean when we spout the cliché "new normal."

Clinging to the hope of a return to "the way things used to be" is stagnation. It is letting events move forward without us. It is ignoring the innovation, creativity, and opportunities that will allow us to survive these changes, to ensure our continued relevance and existence, and to continue adding value for our clients. The internal audit profession must be a leader in adapting and making something even greater than we had before.

Because, as bad as things are, we have been given a great opportunity, a chance to change the way we think. Being thrust into these new experiences has forced us to understand how new technologies (and old ones used in new ways) might help us redefine what tomorrow will look like.

Sometimes the most powerful revelation one can have is that circumstances have changed. That the rules you are accustomed to no longer apply. That the successful tactics may be tactics that would have been rejected under the old rules. That can be liberating. It can spur you to question your assumptions and help you rise above your fixed paradigms and restructure your thinking.

— Leonard Mlodinow from Elastic: Unlocking Your Brain's Ability to Embrace Change

Something as simple as embracing the seemingly obvious fact that circumstances have changed can be the catalyst to our ability to achieve innovation in internal audit and help our clients achieve similar innovation.

What are you doing differently than you did one year ago? And not just differently (because goodness knows there are lots of those examples), but doing better? What forced changes have allowed you to be more efficient, more effective, and just plain better at achieving the goals of internal audit. If the "crisis switch" was turned off today, would you emerge as a better internal audit department?

We have to be out there right now — not in some dreamed-of future — right now exploring, discovering, and innovating. We have to be part of the group of dreamers and doers who are not wrapped up in getting us back to where we were, but are building what we will become.

How will we communicate? How will we build relationships? How will we share information? How will we test and analyze? How will we report? How will we learn? How will we develop? How will every single aspect of what it means to be an internal auditor be done differently?

We already know the names of some of the solutions — remote work, video conferencing, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, adaptive governance, chatbots, blockchain auditing, big data, virtual assistants, smart audits, gamification, and the list goes on. These all represent potential solutions and advancements. But how will they be applied? And what else is out there?

The world is always full of possibilities. And the current situation has forced us to be part of a future we didn't know we were ready for.

In my previous post, I wrote about the stagnation that occurs when we cut ourselves off from available inputs of information. But this is something bigger. This is a more insidious and impactful stagnation; it is the stultification that occurs when we refuse to take advantage of the opportunities around us.

We are in the midst of one of the greatest crises any of us have seen. But we are also in the midst of the one of the greatest opportunities — the opportunity to use change to embrace change and to cause change.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

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