Last week I put together some thoughts on how Internal Audit must be willing to surprise its customers. Underlying the concepts in the post were three things: 1) In order to remain a necessary part of the organization we must maintain relevance, 2) relevance is about doing more than just basic assurance services; it is obtained by applying the concepts of added value, and 3) adding value is more than just giving our customers dribs and drabs of information – it is about knocking their socks off when providing service that makes life better for our customers, the customer's department, and our organizations. (Looking back, I didn't exactly articulate it this way. But, trust me, that's what I meant.)
What set off the rather lengthy discourse was a couple of websites which discussed the art of surprise. Quoting from one of the sites I mentioned the "five elements of successful themed entertainment." Now, I know the minute I said "entertainment" (not to mention theme parks, Disney, and a few other choice words that seem to have more to do with "fun" than internal audit) there was a group of you who immediately tuned out with the contemptuous snicker "this isn't auditing!" I have spoken with some of you and I know these are not concepts which set lightly upon your furrowed brows.
Whenever I begin treading on territories such as creativity, innovation, and entertainment in relation to internal audit, it seems to bring out individuals like the gentleman I mentioned a couple of weeks ago– the individual who responded to my creativity presentation with the comment "Typical of the loss of focus on internal audit basics" to which I really wanted to reply "You're correct, we need to go back to nothing but financial audits and back to green eyeshades and back to hand-crank calculators and back to pencils and erasers and rubber fingers and back to a focus on the wounded and bayonets and back to quill and papyrus (I know those are anachronisms to each other's time periods, but don't stop me, I'm on a roll), and back to the caves and the dinosaurs and the troglodytes and the Luddites and while we're at it let's send 'em all to jail and..."
Sorry, where was I?
Here is the point. Do not ever fool yourself into believing we are not in the entertainment business. Everyone is in the entertainment business. Entertainment is a key ingredient to anyone's ability to communicate. Without some level of "entertainment", no one pays attention to anyone past the first hellos and howdies. And, because auditors often face a more hostile audience, the need for a high entertainment quotient is kicked up past eleven. That doesn't mean it has to be vaudeville and slapstick every meeting. But, unless you entertain, then you are speaking to an audience that does not want to (and, in some instance, cannot) hear.
Think about any presentation you attended where you felt you learned something –conference, seminar, chapter meeting, etc. I'm willing to bet that, at some level you were entertained. Think about those presentations you consider the worst you've ever experienced. Within your litany of reasons for disliking the presentation – whether stated explicitly or just implied – you have almost assuredly included the problem that you were not entertained.
To get your point across (so it really sticks), you must keep people in the grip of what you are saying, maintaining their attention as you provide the core of what you want to communicate. Maybe it requires tragedy, maybe it requires drama, maybe it requires romance (please consult with your Human Resources department before attempting), maybe it requires a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down their pants. Maybe it requires none of those. However, it does require obtaining and maintaining the full attention of those with whom you are talking, working, fighting, collaborating, etceraing.
If you aren't entertaining the customer, if you don't have their attention, if they nod off to sleep when they see you coming, if there is a mad dash to the coffee pot (if not a mad dash to the exits), if they receive phone calls in the middle of meetings indicating their mother has died for the third time that you know of, if your reports are issued with the warning to not operate heavy machinery while reading, if you cannot keep and hold their attention, if you are not surprising them (there it is – there's the tie-in to last week), then you are accomplishing nothing.
Yeah, maybe they are taking corrective action, maybe they let auditing in the building, maybe they even say "What a good boy" as they pat your head and send you on to the next engagement. But you are only building tolerance – you are not building a raving fan of internal audit. (And there are such things. I've seen them. I've seen the ones who appreciate us, who beg us to join them, who tell others of what we have accomplished. And it came about because we surprised, entertained, educated, and – hey, here's where it all comes together – helped them.)
To be a true member of the team, to gain their respect, to provide value, we must win their hearts and minds. Only one of those two will not do. And to win their hearts (because, let's face it, that is the hard one; we always focus on their minds), we must entertain.
All I'm trying to say in my idiosyncratic, rambling, bombasterous way is we have to be willing to boldly walk up, smile in their eye, grab them by the throat and say "No, Internal Audit is not here to help you; we are here to entertain you."
And then we have to come through on that new promise.
(Postscript: As I reread this, it does feel as though it rambles around a bit. But there is an important point within that brings it all together – honest. And, in that same spirit, I was just reminded [because of a Tweet from Disney Institute] of a Walt Disney quote. "If we don't take care of our customers, someone else will." That ties into all of this, too. Trust me.)