How do you respond when asked, “What do you do for a living?” It shouldn’t be tough, but answering that question can be an exhausting exercise in diplomacy and obfuscation. If you say that you are an auditor, almost inevitably the person then asks, “Oh, do you work for the Internal Revenue Service?” Or some may just suddenly disappear in search of what they believe will be a more interesting conversation — such as the rate of moss growth on redwoods or observations on the drying of paint. Even if they don’t run away, their eyes have usually rolled to the back of their head by that point as they check out of the conversation, mentally filing your mug shot in The Hall of Individuals With Whom I Will Never Talk Again. All because of one word — auditor.
English comedian and actor Stephen Fry once said, “We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing — an actor, a writer — I am a person who does things — I write, I act — and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”
And therein lies the problem. We describe ourselves as a noun. We make ourselves a thing. And by thus naming ourselves, we become that thing. We are auditors. We conduct audits. We perform audit work. We produce audit reports. We are part of an audit department. Our identity and our future become inextricably intertwined with the concrete solidity of a thing that has been named.
Instead, we need to define ourselves as verbs. We need to identify with what we do, not what we are. And that means we need to describe ourselves to others by talking about what we do, not what we are. The next time someone asks what you do for a living, try one of these:
“I work with executive managers to help ensure they achieve their objectives.”
“I help streamline processes to ensure management succeeds.”
“I provide oversight to help the organization succeed.”
“I work with management to help eliminate problems before they occur.”
Any one of these will lead to a better conversation, speak to the value internal auditing can provide to an organization, and keep the other person from scuttling away like a lobster confronted with a pot of boiling water.
I am not suggesting that we no longer use the title auditor. But we have to identify ourselves in a way that helps us and others understand we are free to be more. We provide assurance; we consult; we advise; we fulfill the mission, principles, and definition of internal auditing that help establish who we are. When we realize we are not just auditors — when we make the transition away from being a noun — we are free to be the verbs that describe the real value we provide.