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​Making Connections

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The following exchange occurred Tuesday night during The IIA’s International Conference. While not the exact words, these are close enough to the truth to be reportable. (That one was for you, Tim.)

Me (speaking to two attendees): Have you both enjoyed the conference so far?

Both (in various variations): Yes.

Me: Have you gotten anything from the conference?

Attendee 1: Yes, there have been a few things…

Attendee 2 (interrupting attendee 1): Not a thing. It’s been a complete waste.

Attendee 2 was then allowed to continue his rants which will not be repeated here.

Me: Did you attend this morning’s session? (I was talking about the session with Dennis Snow, reports of which you can see here and here.)

Attendee 2: Yes.

Me: Didn’t you get anything from that presentation?

Attendee 2: No!

Me: But, weren’t we just talking about how that specific session included a discussion of the importance of customer service married with a focus on employees?

Attendee 2: Yes.

Me: And didn’t you see that what was being discussed was not just employees and customers of the organization, but of the internal audit department as well:

Attendee 2 paused: Yes.

Me: So, didn’t you see the opportunity to apply the concepts regarding customers to internal audit — for internal audit to do more work focusing on how it treats its clients as customers?

Attendee 2 became somewhat lost in thought.

Me: And didn’t you see the opportunity to apply the concepts of employee support to internal audit — for internal audit to treat its employees better, to understand their needs, and, by providing service to the auditors, support those employees in providing better service to the clients/customer?

Attendee 2 was silent.

Finally, he agreed that what had been said might have value. And then he got excited because he began making connections between what had been said throughout the conference and how those concepts might apply within internal audit.

He had been so focused on the specific words that any of the presenters were using that he did not make the jump to applying it to his own situation. (That was my interpretation. Maybe it was something different, but that was sure the way it seemed to me.) And suddenly a door opened, and he was able to see the value of the entire conference.

One of the keys to the success of any internal audit department (as I mentioned in my last blog post) is to ensure auditors receive training. In fact, I believe my actual words were “Train, train, train!” (Pretty inventive, wouldn’t you say?)

Of course training should include areas related to internal audit, the organization, and the organization’s industry. But transformational training occurs through exposure to areas that may not seem to immediately have any bearing on audit or the organization or the industry. It is exploring every nook and cranny of possibilities to stumble across concepts and ideas that would otherwise never have occurred to us.

A perfect example of this comes from Henry Ford. Many people think that Ford’s innovation was the assembly line. However, the true innovation was the development of the moving assembly line. The story is told that Ford was visiting a slaughterhouse and watched as the carcasses moved to each worker who then would complete their prescribed task. As he watched, the light went on, and he realized that cars could move just as easily as the carcasses.

Innovation in car manufacturing that came from the slaughterhouse. Transformation that occurs from exposure to seemingly unrelated areas.

What are our connections? What are our comparisons? Where are the operations and processes and bits and pieces of information that we will learn from, obtuse and unreasonable areas that will turn into the next transformation?

All I know is that the only way we get auditors (and ourselves) to look more broadly at strange opportunities is to allow us to look and learn more broadly.

My current reading includes essays by Philip K. Dick regarding reality, a book on agile auditing from Prescott Coleman, a collection of book introductions by Harlan Ellison, and a collection of Carl Banks’ comic book adventures of Uncle Scrooge. I can’t tell you how any of them will change my understanding of internal audit or how they might impact how I see internal audit succeeding. In fact, they may not. All I can tell you is that I am looking for input from as many places as possible.

If you are in a position of responsibility, let learning occur anywhere anyone can find the opportunity. And for anyone — leader, follower, chief audit executive, auditor, anything in between — go out and learn anything/everything in order to make yourself, your department, and your profession better.

Just be sure that, unlike attendee 2, you are ready to make the connections.

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