Yesterday I started what was going to be a simple diatribe about the most recent edition of Saturday Night Live and use it to provide some brief lessons for internal audit. Well, it quickly got out of hand with that first post focusing on how entities, departments, and people never experience steady improvement. And it also led to a discussion of how each of us have to take responsibility for ensuring that development continues even in the midst of plateaus and valleys.
With that out of the way, it is now time to come through on my promise to discuss what went wrong with last Saturday night's SNL, and use that to provide more lessons for the profession.
As I mentioned the guest host/musical guest was Justin Bieber. I will not go into the various reasons I do not revere Mr. Bieber. (Even with this rather extended version of the blog, there isn't really enough time to provide a complete enumeration of the perceived offenses I've witnessed. Besides, rather painful slander and libel laws exist to which I would rather not skirt too close.) Suffice to say I am not a fan.
But, last Saturday's show had problems that transcended Mr. Bieber's transgressions; problems which are reflective of those the show has experienced in the past. And these same issues are faced by all internal audit shops as they, like SNL, navigate their way through years of various successes and failures. There may be more, but I'm going to stick with just three: stretching talent further than it should be stretched, chasing the latest fad, and becoming a one-trick pony.
Let's start with the issue of stretching things just a little too thinly
SNL is notorious for bringing in people whose greatest strengths have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to act, read a cue card, or even move across the stage without forgetting to take the next step. That is the nature of their rather strange business – focusing on talent that will bring viewers to the show at the expense of quality. There is probably a whole 'nother discussion that could arise from that point.
Instead, I want to focus on how SNL sometimes exacerbates the problem by stretching that talent even thinner. As in Mr. Bieber's case, they sometimes make the decision that the star can play two roles. This very often results in the star's failure to perform at their best in either role – mediocre acting paired with a musical performance that is short of expectations.
All audit shops fight the resource battle. The difference is that, in the case of SNL it is a decision based on attracting viewers, in our case it is a decision based on the limitations placed on us by budgets and hours. The latest research (I know I have it here somewhere, I just can't find it right now – you'll have to trust me on this one) indicates that the majority of audit departments plan on increasing resources – time, people, budgets. And most shops also indicate that, even with an increase in resources, they still need more. There are two solutions – eliminate work the department would like to do if they could, or stretch resources to fill the gap. It is usually a combination of both, with additional emphasis being placed on the latter.
Here's a rhetorical question –how many of you put in more than 40 hours a week? [The author pauses to let the knowing and painful peals of laughter subside.] More rhetorical questions: How many hours can you put in before all your work suffers? 50 hours? 60 hours? 24/7? And is every auditor the same? If Fred works 50 hours is it the same as Ethyl working 50 hours? Worse yet, do you expect every auditor's 40 hours/50 hours/60 hours to achieve the same quality?
What happens when people are pushed to do more than they actually can accomplish? What happens when someone who is an expert on financial audits is asked to also pull some extra work on operational audits? What happens when people are forced to multi-task by focusing on two/three/four different audits at the same time?
Experts become just really good. And they are pushed more and they become just good. And they are pushed more and they become a little less than good. And they are pushed more and the department takes one of those dips we talked about yesterday. And they are pushed more and everyone wants to know what's wrong with Fred and Ethyl; they used to be experts in the field and everyone counted on them and now the department is failing because Fred and Ethyl cannot pull their weight.
And someone asks Justin Bieber to sing, dance, act, and be funny. And then everyone wants to know why SNL's quality is dipping.
It is a good thing to push, to ask for more. But there also has to be the recognition that pushing too hard results in poor results. And then it is the fault of the pusher, not the pushee.
Next we'll look at issues related to chasing the latest fad and being a one-trick pony. But, for the rest of this week I'm going back to more typical (there are typical?) postings on this blog. So, come back for those, and then come back Monday for the rest of "Lessons from SNL"