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Mind of Jacka: Welcome Back, Let's Get Away

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Jun 22, 2021

I'm going to throw out an idea for you. Keep in mind that this comes from a man who is semi-retired; has no stake in the success or failure of any such idea; and doesn't have to worry about budgets, schedules, or the mundanities of everyday work-life. This comes from someone who was once burdened with the realities of the world, but can now ivory-tower his life away. However, I think it's a good idea. So, I throw it your way for you to contemplate and do with as you will.

Emerging like blinded animals who use their paws to shade their eyes after clambering out of their hibernation holes, we are starting to see a shift back to normalcy — or, at least, whatever normal will/has become. Risks still need to be identified, controls still need to be established, and work still needs to be done. So we follow our natural instincts and jump back into the fray (a fray we never really jumped out of, but go with me on this.)

However, as much as we would like to flip a switch and strategically, structurally, and emotionally go back a year-and-a-half to "The Before Times," it isn't going to happen. Even if we have kept abreast of the organization's moves and countermoves, more changes are on the way. And, for many of us, there is some catching up to be done. We are back in the real world, and the real world is not waiting for us.

Good audit leaders have kept things running and changing and adapting all along. Most departments are not taking off on this new race from a standing start. And the good leaders also know that more dramatic changes and adaptations are on the horizon (if not already crested past that horizon and on our doorsteps.)

But here is the thing most of us have missed. The dizzying rate of actions, reactions, changes, fly-by-the-seat-of-one's-pants, and adjustment to the revisions of the accommodations because of backlash from modifications because all heck broke loose, has led to a focus on the month-to-month, week-to-week, day-to-day, and even hour-to-hour changes necessary to be only slightly behind. And that means, for most, it has been a while since we have paused, taken a breath, and tried to look at the big picture.

Strategically, where is the organization headed, where is the department headed, and how is the department going to help the organization?

We are at an inflection point. And, yes, I hate that cliché as much as you do. However, in this case, it is not a cliché. It describes the interesting and rare opportunity that exists at this unique moment in history.

Here's my thought. Before everyone gets smashed back in their cubicles (literally and metaphorically) and forced to sort their way through the new reality, take the time to bring everyone together in order to spend some time looking back and, most importantly, looking forward.

Make it a couple of days. And make it something special. Call it an off-campus retreat, a free-form workshop, a set of very-happy hours. Get across the idea that this is not a time to work, but a time to find out how to work better. Maybe you can afford to sneak everyone to Durango, Colo. (Ask me about that story, later.) Maybe you meet at a local hotel/conference center. Maybe it is just getting together for a day or two at the executive's house. But get away before you all get back together.

Done correctly, it is an opportunity for the staff to get to know each other again — a chance to become reacquainted with the humans behind the screens. But, after that, it is a time to discuss where, in this new world, the department is headed and how it can help the organization. And, for best results, make it an open discussion. Of course the leader should lead, but everyone has to be a part of the discussion. And part of the final decisions.

Make it valuable. Make it meaningful. Make if fun. And, from this should come a new direction and a new purpose for the department — one that reflects the world that changed and is still changing.

As I say, real easy for me to throw this out here. It's no skin off my audit schedule. But if I were in charge, or at least had some clout to help drive such a decision, I would be doing my best to get this done. (Again, ask me about Durango.)

And if you have no power? As is so often the case in these situations, search for those who are like-minded. Maybe you can't change the direction of the department or establish a new purpose. But for yourself or for that group of like-minded people, look for a chance to get together and start envisioning the future while determining the steps needed to get there.

Let me know if you think this would work, let me know why you don't think it would work, let me know why you won't try it, and let me know if you do try it. I'm really interested to know.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

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