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
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
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
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
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