I know that no one believed we would ever make it but, yes, we are finally at the last installment of "Lessons from Saturday Night Live". We've been using what I considered to be a particularly poor episode of SNL (one starring Mr. Justin Bieber) to draw some parallels between the problems SNL exhibited and those faced by internal audit. I now have one last lesson I'd like to share. And this time, it really has nothing to do with Mr. Bieber.
SNL has recently been using and using and using a skit titled "The Californians". It is a spoof directed at both soap operas and the California life-style. The first time it was on I found it mildly amusing. The second time it was on I thought, "Really? Again?" The third time it was on it had become mildly annoying. Now, every time they drag out this excuse for refusing to come up with anything new, I hear and feel the sound of nails on the chalkboard. Yet, for some reason, they have decided this is the height of hilarity, wedging it into the show as often and as early (early is important because more people are still awake then) as possible. I don't know the numbers; maybe it really draws them in. But, for me, whenever this pale shadow of talented writing excruciates itself across the screen, I find it to be the perfect time to go get a snack, find a drink, or complete whatever ablutions I have been delaying because they might take longer than the length of a commercial.
This isn't the first time SNL has driven a skit into the ground. It won't be the last. And, in the worst situations, SNL has even used these tedious skits to make tedious movies that take a one-trick joke and attempt to turn it into a two-hour (well, probably just an hour and a half) movie.
Where is the inventiveness? Where is the creativity? Where is the "let's shy away from the crutch of doing what we did before and try something different?"
Wait, those questions weren't for SNL, they were for internal auditing. Here's what I mean. Take a look at your schedule for 2013. I defy you to identify one audit that is new, cutting edge, or truly different.
Most of us have gotten away from cycles of audits. I know of very few shops which rely on these for 100% of their planning. (Quick aside – there is nothing wrong with some recurring audits. They are necessary because there are risks that will exist year after year. For example, I am hard pressed to imagine the year when the audit department for any insurance company can get away from a review touching on the millions of dollars that are paid out in claims. No, what I am speaking of is repeating audits just because it is what the department did before.) At the same time, how many shops are looking for something new, something different, an unidentified risk or audit that may make a real difference.
(Do not get this confused with yesterday's discussion about chasing fads. I have no problem with going into an area that might be a "fad" – that might be a request by an executive that doesn't appear as big as something else – if it is done with the idea that something big might be out there, something different, something unknown but fear-worthy.)
What do I mean by new and different? Here's a few things I've seen pop up in the last few years – audits that definitely were, when first completed, outside the norm. Audits over ethics, social media, assurance providers, human resources (not payroll; human resources), marketing, governance, brand. These do not seem particularly earth-shattering right now. But as recently as two years ago, some of these would have been considered a waste of time, not within internal audit's purview, and bizarre risks that did not bear consideration.
So, what are the new ones for 2013? Danged if I know. If I had the answer to that one I'd be touring the country as the famous mind-reader and risk-predictor – the Great Jackini. But that is what exploring is all about. That is why you want to quit doing "The Californians" and come up with a new skit. Your new skit/audit may really stink. But that is what happens when you try new things – they don't always succeed. But the successes make up for the struggles.
Somewhere out there is a risk that has recently developed that none of us has thought of. No, I take that back, it's a risk that a couple of you have thought of – big picture risks that others just have not recognized or have ignored. And someone is going to finally make the case that it needs to be reviewed. And from that will come a new concern for management and governance and the board and auditing, and from that will come additional protection for all of the above, with those who ignore it falling by the wayside.
And if that is your idea, then go out and champion it. Go out and succeed. And then go out and share with the rest of us. Because, while we all continue to perform "The Californians", we can all learn from that new skit you're doing that has got them rolling in the aisles.
Okay, I've gone on quite a while. (Who knew the desire to just rant about a bad episode of SNL would lead to all this.) Let us recap:
Stretching too thin leads to mediocrity.
Following fads diminishes our ability to see the future.
Being a one-trick audit department means ignoring emerging risks.
And, the one that started it all – do not become too disheartened by the current condition of your internal audit department. There are always peaks and valleys. If you are in a valley, you can make a difference by helping drive to the next peak. And, if you are at a peak, well, there are always greater peaks to climb.
Let me end by saying that I have been somewhat unfair to SNL in this write up. A show does not stay on the air for more than 30 years by being bad. There are innumerable lessons of success to be learned from SNL, not the least of which is to have no fear that you will fail when you reach for the obtuse, different, obscure, and challenging. There will be failures. But the successes will propel you to greater things. Face it, who thought Killer Bees would be a success. (Apparently Belushi didn't.) But it is now part of the legend that includes NPR talk radio, more cowbell, and a song about a special present that was sung by another Justin – Mr. Timberlake.
So, what have you learned from watching SNL?