A fellow IIA International Conference attendee and I were
talking about what we hoped to get from the conference. For me, since I’m in this state of
semi-retirement where I often find myself on the outside looking in, a primary
objective was to find out what the new and different ideas and challenges are
that exist for internal auditors.
The gentleman I was speaking with agreed that this was a
fine and worthy aspiration. But he
brought up a more specific task with which he had been charged.
Seems that his boss expected him to come back and train the
entire department on what was discussed during the conference. The attendee was specifically instructed to
come back from the conference and provide updates, ideas, and actual training for
the entire staff based on everything he heard, learned, and experienced.
I’m guessing this sounds a little familiar. Over the years, I’ve heard a significant number
of people explain that such was their assignment. In fact, I’ve had bosses who have
requested/demanded the same from me. In
fact (and even worse), I have asked people who worked for me to do just that.
Let’s look at this one through the prism of common sense. The participant is being requested to take
two-and-a-half days’ worth of information obtained during seven concurrent
sessions and six general sessions — information covering such disparate
subjects as agile auditing and diversity and data analytics and quality assurance
and various other internal-audit-but-in-no-other-way-connected concepts — and
turn it into a one hour/one day/one week (your mileage may vary) set of
Even if the participant decides to focus on a single subject,
it is a herculean task.
And, for the poor sap who is sitting in the presentation
with the Damoclean sword of an upcoming presentation hanging over his or her
head, how much attention can be paid to what is being said. Yes, the words will be there. Yes, the slides
will be there. But it is nearly impossible to focus on the actual information
that is being delivered. The attendee has
the trees, but no forest.
It is understandable that we want instantly tangible results
from an investment in any learning or training. (Again, I have fallen into the trap of requesting this impossibility from
employees myself.) But years of experience have shown me that, particularly
when it comes to conferences, instant results seldom occur. I can count on the fingers of one hand the
number of times I attended a conference session that was so transformational it
changed the way I or my department worked. (One example, Benford’s Law. Another, balanced scorecards. And
there may be a couple more, but they don’t spring to mind, even after digging a
No, the value in attending conferences (and much other
training — chapter meetings are a good example) comes from the attendees
hearing new concepts and ideas. They may
not be instantly applicable. But they
rattle around, mixing with previous thoughts and lying in wait for just the
right combination of other concepts to develop into something unexpected,
something new, and something of value.
There is a quote from Steve Jobs about creativity that speaks
to why we should all be learning as much as we can, whether it is of value or
not. "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did
something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they
just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.“ And this doesn’t happen unless there is an
influx of ideas — unless training is not about what was learned, but about just
There is nothing wrong with taking stock after training, determining
what you know now that you didn’t know before. And there is nothing wrong with asking your employees to take similar stock.
But don’t expect immediate answers.
Another quote about creativity (and I apologize for not
remembering who said this one): Creativity
is like a joke; you don’t get it until the end.
And the same can be said for the results of much training.