The kickoff keynote presenter for The IIA’s International
Conference in Australia was Chris Riddell, who describes himself as a “global
futurist, digital evangelist, and media commentator.” I’ve heard a number of
futurists speak in the past, and I have to say that Chris definitely rises to
the top. He does an excellent job of describing the future that may already be
here by sharing compelling stories of the seismic changes that are occurring,
along with the important impacts. He was the perfect person to kick start the
conference, giving all attendees a wake-up call that most internal auditors
sorely need. And while he didn’t speak too specifically about internal audit,
the message was clear: adapt or be left in the wake of change.
However, among all his excellent information and stories,
the one that really caught my attention was one he shared that wasn’t directly related
to the typical conversation of futurists.
He mentioned that, a few days ago, he had been talking with
the head of a local Sydney bank. The gentleman said he had a rule for any
meeting he attended. “If the customer isn’t brought up in the first five
minutes, we leave the meeting.”
That is an incredibly powerful statement — one that shows that
particular organization’s tone at the top when it comes to customer
Makes you wonder — how many meetings go on in organizations
where the customer is not only forgotten, but never even thought of in the
And now, let’s ask an even tougher one — one that strikes a
little bit closer to home. How often is the customer considered, let alone brought
up, in the meetings internal audit holds? And I don’t mean internal audit’s
customers; I mean the organization’s customers.
If our job is to help the organization ensure risks to the
achievements of its objectives are minimized, then that means our job is to
ensure customers are considered in all aspects of our work and the work we are
reviewing. (I really don’t know of any type of organization that doesn’t have
customers — so I’ll stand by the fact that this statement applies to everyone.)
And that means that the customer should be front and center in every
During the kick-off meeting, find out how the department’s
objectives and risks relate to the customers. Interviewing line personnel; find
out if they understand the impact of their processes on customers. Completing
the wrap-up meeting; take every step to ensure that any findings and corrective
actions include the impact on the customer. Meeting with the audit committee,
make sure they know you know who the customers are and what they want.
Top to bottom — everyone in every meeting should understand
that internal audit understands the importance and needs of the organization’s
And this isn’t only when we are working with customer-facing
processes. Any process/department/function within an organization — human
resources, maintenance, the cafeteria, payroll … internal audit — can impact the
customer in sometimes surprising ways. (If nothing else, when these supporting
services are not working correctly, it impacts the ability of customer-facing
processes to function effectively.)
And here’s another added benefit. Imagine the look on your
client’s faces when they hear you talk about customers. It sends the powerful
message that internal audit is in touch with what the organization is trying to
achieve, and that the department’s focus is not on finding things that have
gone wrong, but making things better.
Take a stab at it in your next meeting. Bring the
conversation around to a discussion about customers and the customer
experience. And watch what happens.
Then, try it again, and again, and again. Eventually, it
will be second nature.
And, eventually, it will also become second nature for your
clients to expect internal audit to understand and care about the customer
experience. And to accept internal audit as a partner in the business.