Mind of Jacka: I Think They Hate Us
Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU May 31, 2022
Okay, maybe hate is a little too strong a word. But I'm willing to bet that all of us, one time or another, felt a "strong dislike" emanating from those with whom we were working — or trying to work. And I'll make another bet that at some point, whether we knew it or not, someone did use the "H" word.
Let's be honest; we are not in a popular profession.
Yes, I know a lot of us get along great with our clients. And many of us have relationships where we are partnering with the clients. And some of us are actually popular with our clients on a personal and professional basis. But my feeling is that the general public, if they think about internal audit at all, do not have a favorable impression. Ask them what their first thought is when they hear the word "internal auditor," and I'm guessing it includes words we do not want to hear.
Further, we have all talked with, worked with, worked in, or had discussions with internal audit departments that live the cliched role of police/gotcha-artists/wounded-bayonetters. And, through no fault of our own, we pay the price for those experiences as they linger with our clients like subdued memories of the bully who stole their candy during recess.
It makes building relationships that much tougher. But, as noted, many of us have pulled it off. So why is it that some internal auditors can move from hated, shunned, disliked, or avoided to tolerated, accepted, welcomed, and prized?
The answer most of us immediately jump to is that we gain respect by providing value. We do work that resonates with the client, we do work that benefits the client, and we do work that identifies opportunities for true improvement.
All well and good, but there is another aspect.
When internal auditors talk about this issue, we often throw around the term "relationship management." But we tend to couch it in terms of that value-add stuff listed above. And while adding value is important, it is only part of the story. By focusing on value, we are actually ignoring the "relationship" part of "relationship management."
When it came to relationship management, our team at Farmers Insurance was right in there. We had monthly/quarterly/annual meetings with various levels of leadership and we talked a lot about the business. What were the risks, what was going wrong, what was going right, and what did the future hold? All good discussion points. And it gained us credibility. But what really built rapport and regard was recognizing that a relationship — a valued relationship — must be built on the human element.
We did our best to view our meetings with clients as humans having a conversation, not just businesspeople discussing business. And by being human, our meetings with them were no longer considered "a meeting with the internal auditor." They became "a meeting with Mike" (to pull a name at random.)
The roots of hate/dislike/indifference exist when two individuals lose the perspective that they are talking with and about human beings. When we lose sight of the humanity involved in conversations – — both in terms of the topic and individuals involved in the conversations — we begin to focus on the differences, the unsupported opinions, and the broad excuses that have nothing to do with what is being discussed. The discussion no longer involves humans. Instead, we are having conversations with a preconceived notion, a cliché, or something that does not eat, sleep, and breathe like us.
There is no humanity; there is only distrust and walls. And, because there is no connection, there is no discourse. And when there is no discourse, there is no way to find a solution — to agree a problem exists, to agree what the problem is, and to agree on potential solutions using the input of both sides.
Accordingly, the way to really break down that wall between internal auditor and client is to approach the client as a human being approaching another human being. By embracing humanity, hate has trouble growing and will begin to wither.
Been a nifty little discussion about internal audit, hasn't it? But I know I'm not hiding anything from any of you; I'm guessing you have guessed that there is something more than internal audit here.
In the U.S., we seem to have enmeshed ourselves in a world where decisions are made based on fear and hate. (Fear is another topic worth discussing related to both the real and internal audit worlds. But it is rooted in hate — or hate is rooted in fear — or some combination thereof.) And because hate destroys any chance of real discussion, then nothing gets done. There is no middle ground, there is no giving in, there is no compromise, there is no discussion. Instead, there is only yelling, screaming, and posturing. We let hate lead our discussions, our decisions, and our voting. And the concept of humanity dies in in its own obscurity.
I've got no solution at the national/global level. But I know it starts by each of us recognizing that, even in disagreement, we are talking with fellow human beings. And those conversations must have a foundation in respect, taking the effort to understand the other side. The more we do that in our personal lives, the more it will happen in the broader arena.
But, at the very least, as internal auditors, we can recognize we are working with humans, and make the effort to treat our clients as such. And, in so doing, become human to them, also.
It has to start somewhere.