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What Is This Thing Called Value-add​

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In June of 1995, I published an article in Internal Auditor describing how Farmers Audit developed its own vision statement. Here is a quote from that article: “In trying to determine how best to explain ourselves, we started with familiar buzzwords and catch phrases, ‘consultants’ and ‘value-added,’ for example.” Note the date. Almost 14 years ago, internal auditors were bandying about the word “value-add” — not to mention “consultant” — and we were all trying to figure out how to get that done. I don’t know how it is around your audit shop, but I see this phrase continues to have a starring role in many seminars, conferences, and chapter meetings — not to mention how prominent it is within our own department. Which begs the question:

When are we going to quit talking and just make it an inherent part of what we do?
Maybe I’m missing something here, but …
… If you are spending your time trying to figure out how you add value and trying to convince your customers you add value (in particular if you are using those exact words), then close up the shop and call the movers, the game is over, the band has left the field, Romeo and Juliet are dead, the roadies hit the stage, the fat lady has sung, the case is closed, --30--, the analogies have run out, it’s a Mark VII. (That last one is a Dick Van Dyke reference for anyone old enough to remember.) I am not coming out against marketing your audit department — that’s a continuous requirement. But I’m saying that, if you’re doing your job correctly, your customers will intrinsically understand your value. The minute you start hyping your value in a “look what we did” approach, your self-aggrandizing will destroy any credibility you may have established. Tom Peters (luckily for us, talking about human resources departments) once said something to the effect of “Beware of any department that spends its time telling you how important they are. If you don’t already understand what they provide, then they are providing nothing.”
Now, this doesn’t mean you stop reassessing your department (if you have to use the word “value-add” to facilitate the process, that’s fine), and it doesn’t mean that you don’t constantly exhibit to your customers your value. Just recognize that value-add is not what we all are trying to achieve; it is table stakes to the game.
Or am I missing something?
(Join us next time, or the time after, or some time soon for Maslow’s Hierarchy of Auditing, which includes value-add [maybe] but probably a lot lower on the list than you might expect.)

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