​Are Millennials Killing Internal Audit?​​

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In my last blog post​, I provided the following quote:

“So, can we please stop saying that millennials are killing various businesses, because I'm pretty sure these businesses are killing themselves by not adapting to a changing market.”

I then went on to talk about the perils of grouping people into our preconceived notions of generations (along with any other stereotypes you might want to think of.) But, as I noted, that wasn’t really what I wanted to talk about.

No, the reason I shouted a silent “Huzzah!” upon reading the quote was that it speaks to one of the things that drives me craziest in people’s approach to change. The cry of “millennials are killing our business” is just the latest way people and organizations lay blame on “change” rather than accepting and adapting to that change.

To paraphrase the Bard, “The fault, Dear Brutus, is not in the millennials, but with ourselves.”

History (including incredibly recent history) is littered with companies that just didn’t get it. Rather than name names, here’s a few of the industries that have taken significant hits: video rental, music distribution, retail, airlines, photographic supplies, book publication. To be honest, we could probably list any company/any industry. (I wonder how Amalgamated Buggy Whips is doing these days)

Things are changing and it only has a little bit to do with millennials. Instead, it has to do with people’s ability to accomplish tasks in ways that were never imagined. We could just as accurately say “social media is killing various businesses” or “television is killing various business” or “globalization is killing various businesses” or even “other businesses are killing various businesses”.

In other words, change causes change. Yes, some businesses will be “killed.” But others, the ones that don’t lay blame elsewhere, will adapt, thrive, and replace what existed.

So, what’s a poor internal auditor to do?

The first thing is to help the organization do more than just blame the customers for what is going wrong; instead, helping the organization understand that changes in customer behaviors mean the organization has to change.

But just as importantly, internal audit has to take a good, long, hard look at itself and how it is adapting to new customers, new deliverables, and new technologies.

How do you respond to changes in the work and approaches you use? Do you recognize the need to adapt? Or do you lament that customers do not understand internal audit — that they are asking for things we are not, cannot, or should not be doing? (And being wrong on all three counts.)

Are you effectively saying “millennials (or new clients or new C-Suite executives or new regulations or new anything else) are killing our ability to do our work”?

I have talked with far too many auditors (from newbies to long-term executives) who seem to think that the approaches and methods of internal audit are immutable. (For example, there are still some out there who do not believe the word “consult” should be included in the Definition of Internal Auditing.)

With the insane pace of change in the world, internal audit needs to be ready to change just as quickly. (Actually, internal audit should already be changing that quickly, but it is too late to lament our delay.)

Here’s just one example. What have you done about AI (artificial intelligence)? I don’t mean your organization’s use (or lack of use) of AI; I mean using AI in completing internal audit work.

What’s that you say? Nothing?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I know of no audit department doing this kind of work. (And, if you know of someone, please let me know.)

But that is the kind of change I mean. Because if we are not willing to dive headlong into adaption of new technologies and approaches, we will be left behind as surely as all those video rental stores.

We have the choice. We can lead the way or we can be trampled as we stand still.

So, stop saying millennials are killing business. The business is killing itself by not adapting to change. And, never say millennials (or some equivalent scapegoat) are killing internal audit. We can only allow ourselves to rust away into oblivion by not seeing and embracing the opportunities.

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