Disruptive trends and technology will have a profound impact on employment in the coming years, according to The World Economic Forum's The Future of Jobs Report 2018. Already, the report says, business model disruptions are swiftly impacting skills for both current and emerging jobs across industries. Disruptive technologies like robotic process automation, machine learning, the Internet of Things, and blockchain, as well as the automation of business and assurance processes, are factors determining skill requirements for the current and future audit workforce. Moreover, the lead time to upskill is decreasing, whereas the proportion of core skills required to perform a job will rise incrementally.
The employment impact of disruptive technological, demographic, and socioeconomic changes suggests two future scenarios — either limitless opportunities in newly emerging job categories (the optimistic view) or massive labor substitution and displacement (the pessimistic view). Either possibility is feasible, and opinions differ on which is most likely to unfold.
I foresee massive opportunities for professionals who continually re-skill themselves and commit to lifelong learning. To ensure a lasting career shelf life and remain professionally relevant in the coming years, internal auditors need to pursue a strategy of continuous improvement. Ten steps, in particular, can help practitioners thrive amid disruptive organizational change.
1. Ask Yourself — What Did I Learn Today? Anyone seeking career growth should strive to learn something new every day. Remaining well-informed and keeping up to date on new business and industry trends is essential to professional success. The World Economic Forum report recommends incentivizing lifelong learning as a strategic long-term solution for its predicted skill shortage. Regardless, every professional should recognize the value of continuing education and develop themselves accordingly. As a starting point, anyone can access a treasure trove of information simply by looking at his or her organization's annual report. These important documents contain edifying details on strategy, industry trends, key initiatives, and primary areas of business focus. Moreover, productive areas of learning and development could include cognitive technology, General Data Protection Regulation assurance, cybersecurity imperatives, culture auditing, integrated assurance, Agile internal auditing, data analytics, predictive analysis, and automated assurance methodology.
2. Don't Equate Time With Experience Professional experience should be based on competency and expertise, not on timelines. Thinking of experience simply as the number of years spent in a role or function is a dangerous mistake. In fact, with the speed of innovation and change in today's businesses, experience has become virtually meaningless as a measure of value. Nearly two-thirds of surveyed organizations from The Future of Jobs Report say that, as part of their learning strategy, they plan to invest in re-skilling current employees. Internal auditors should seek to build competencies and expertise for the future, learn as much as possible while working, and keep exploring new processes and technologies. They should pursue innovations in their work and in their engagement with stakeholders, and they should not be content with repeatedly doing the same thing the same old way.
3. Read at Least Five Hours a Week According to The World Economic Forum report, problem solving and critical thinking are among the key skills needed for 2022. With increasing geographical and cultural diversity in the workforce intermingled with higher use of disruptive technology for work across industries, such soft and behavioral skills will be in greater demand. Reading books can help enhance these skills. A daily reading habit, or any routine that would amount to at least five hours of reading each week, can open up new windows of thought and introduce unique perspectives. Broadened understanding and exposure to new points of view are essential to effective performance and growth as a professional.
4. Get Trained and Certified More than a third of the desired core skills projected for 2022 are not yet considered crucial for today's work, according to The World Economic Forum report. Disruptive technological changes bring with them the demand for newer skills. For this reason, no one can afford to rest on past laurels and qualifications. Instead, internal auditors should research available training or certifications, enroll in their organization's in-house training programs, or request sponsorship for external training. Professional associations, roundtables, and clubs can also be valuable sources of knowledge, continued professional education, and connections to industry.
5. Accept That Change Is Inevitable To paraphrase the ancient Hindu text Bhagavad Gita, what is born has to die. Nothing is permanent, including change, which itself is always changing. Moreover, no one is indispensable. The role you occupy today was likely held by someone else previously — and you may choose to leave that role soon, or the organization may replace you with someone better. Avoid becoming so emotionally rooted into your current role that uprooting or moving becomes onerous. Treat every change as an opportunity; prepare yourself and be ready to move on.
6. Embrace Change Many organizations are on a high-speed innovation path, and innovation is a catalyst for change. Be part of the change, not a roadblock to it. Rather than wasting time endlessly questioning change, be the first to identify the need for new competencies and upskill accordingly. Often, disruptive changes create an urgent skill gap inside organizations, thus creating new opportunities for early adapters. The key for internal audit to remain relevant to the organization is a willingness to use new technologies and quickly adopt new methods of working (e.g., Agile internal audit, integrated/automated assurance, alternative staffing models, etc.). Only those who keep pace with organizational aspirations can create real value for the business.
7. Don't Fall Into the Supervisor Trap Many professionals share the common ambition of growing in the organization and advancing to positions of leadership. But focusing only on managing people, and neglecting to develop other skills, can be a professional death trap. The higher someone rises in the organization, the more vulnerable he or she becomes. Managers are closely watched, with every move analyzed in detail by subordinates and management alike. Hence, managers cannot survive for long on their strengths in resource administration, team management, and interdepartmental relations alone. They need to also focus continually on building depth of expertise. Managers need to explore the functional or technical aspects of the operations they manage, learning in detail about their operational area, business segments, existing and upcoming technology, and best practices. Doing so will earn both respect from the supervised team and the trust of management.
8. Never Stop Asking for Feedback It's important to perform a job well and to be satisfied with it, but it's more important to ask clients whether the job was delivered as expected. Always look for genuine and constructive feedback — if it isn't provided voluntarily, seek it out. Take all feedback with an open mind, analyze it, and work toward improvement. Listening to the client is the only way to remain focused on what's important and to serve as a value creator for the organization.
9. Don't Overvalue Job Security As The Future of Jobs Report emphasizes, job security is in decline, whereas compensation and work-life balance have increased. While having a secure job can provide comfort, a strong desire for security may limit career potential and prevent exploration of new opportunities. A larva may be safe while remaining inside its cocoon, but to grow it must leave these safe confines and take flight. Likewise, internal auditors must resist fixating on security and seek broader professional horizons. Social networks such as LinkedIn and Xing and engagement with like-minded peers can present a wave of opportunities. Be ready to leave your safety net, remain alert to new opportunities, and take on new challenges. Always share knowledge or experience gained with peers, and learn from others.
10. Treat Your Job as an Investment Your current job should be an organizational ladder, not a plateau. Always view the time, effort, and energy put into your current role as an investment, and treat it as a stepping stone for the next position. Doing so will keep you motivated to work hard and perform better. At the same time, as with any investment, always assess the expected rate of return. Ask yourself what future role your current one will lead to. Does that role interest you? If the future path is hazy or undesirable, or if your career has become stagnant, continuing in the current role is pointless. Start looking for a more appealing position — one that aligns more closely with your interests and ambitions.
As an overarching principle to these steps, every professional should consider what ultimately drives him or her. What would you do if you didn't have to go to work tomorrow? What makes you happy, sparks your interest, and ignites your enthusiasm? Perhaps there's an area you've always wanted to explore but for various reasons couldn't devote attention to it. Find your passion — a rewarding pursuit that excites and motives you. If you have one already, start thinking about how you might parlay that interest into a fulfilling vocation. If you don't have one, find your interest and explore the possibilities. Engaging in meaningful, stimulating work will uplift your professional life and bring long-term satisfaction to your career.