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​Turning an Idea Into an Identity

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You never know when serendipity will creep in and smack you upside the head.

A couple of days ago I was listening to sports talk radio. I don’t fall into that trap too often. But, in this case, I had a three-hour drive ahead of me and it seemed the best option for breaking up the monotony of the road.

One of the announcers made this comment about one of our hometown teams: “We need to see if they are turning an idea into an identity.”

And there, in the middle of the highway, travelling at 65 mph (I’m sure that was the speed I was travelling; goodness knows that, as an ethical auditor. I would not be going above the posted speed limit) I was gobsmacked by how relevant, how true, and how damning that statement was for internal audit.

We have an idea of what we want to be. But when are we going to actually turn that into our identity?

We spend astonishing foot-pounds of energy talking about how we want to arrive at the promised land of trusted advisor-hood, respected business partnership, revered risk expertise, and being the eyes and ears of management as we sit at the right hand of the CEO advising (but never, never, never, never making a decision) on how the organization can best succeed.

Yet we seem to be stuck in a 40-year wandering of the wilderness trying to shed the image of pencil-pushers, nitpickers, fault-finders, error-reporting automatons, and bayonetters of the wounded — of being the ones who focus on limiting the organization rather than helping it achieve success.

Don’t get me wrong. There are internal audit departments that have changed their idea of what they want to be into a positive identity; there are groups that have become what we all want to become.

But they are the exception. The rest of us pontificate, expostulate, recriminate, remonstrate, demonstrate, inundate, and, not to put too fine a point on it, just plain waste our time lamenting what we wish would happen, not taking the necessary effort or the effective steps to actually change.

Thanks in part to those sports-radio announcers, I have finally realized that the fault, dear Brutus, is not in the profession or The IIA or even in our individual organizations, but in ourselves.

This is a clarion call to every internal auditor. Do not sit back waiting for audit leadership or the leaders in the profession or some magic audit fairy who will spread her fairy dust to move from idea to identity. We cannot wait for others. We must each take individual ownership and accountability to ensure internal audit builds that identity.

Recognize the idea of what you should be as an internal auditor, and then take active steps to change that idea into a new identity — the identity of an internal auditor that is a partner, that is an advisor, that can be trusted to provide positive impact on the organization.

If we all take individual accountability to bring that identity to fruition, then, and only then, will internal audit departments in general, and the profession as a whole, be perceived as the valuable asset we all know it can be.

But it starts with you. Get off your abacus and start doing something about it.

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