I had this one all prepared in my mind. I saw this as my opportunity to wail on those who attend conferences and then blithely ignore the conference itself. I was going to go into a blistering diatribe about those individuals who have made the commitment – money, time, etc. – to invest in their personal training and development, and then disappear as they call in on conference calls or answer their phones in the middle of sessions or review and approve documents they have been sent or any of the many other work activities that seem to intrude on the avowed purpose of attending the conference.
Oh yeah – I was going to go off on those suckers.
And then, five minutes before the start of a session, my phone went off. The name of the caller did not show up on the display. I didn't recognize the phone number. I ignored the fact that I might disrupt those sitting around me. I ignored the fact that, if the phone call took longer than I expected, then I would be the distraction in the room. (And how could I have any expectation since I didn't know who the caller was nor what they wanted nor any of the details.). I justified my actions with defenses like the session hadn't started yet, I could talk quietly, I could dart out of the room if necessary, and (the one at the root of all of these defenses even though we refuse to acknowledge it) my life is more important than anyone else's.
I was one of those guys. I answered my phone.
And it was a sales person.
But I just had to know. And I had to feel involved. And I had to feel important because somebody called. And I had to believe it might represent a new opportunity. And, for that brief second, I had to believe that a potential conversation was more important than the reason I was here in the first place.
But, you know what, in spite of being that guy (at least I had it on vibrate), I'm still going to go off on all of us who sublimate the reason we are in attendance at these conferences to the perceived need to continue our involvement in the "real" world.
What I see is a group of people who are afraid to let go. Of people who think they are so important the world can't go on without them. Of people who have sacrificed their freedom to the perception that it is all about them.
I was talking to a couple of other conference-goers about this concept and we all agreed on a few points. The first was that, if you cannot be away for the short time involved in attending a conference, then your department is a failure. What would they do without you? You think they couldn't survive? Then they aren't surviving now.
But we also agreed that, while we in Internal Audit are an integral part of the success of any organization, we aren't the most important aspect. You want proof? Take a look at your disaster recovery plans. I'm willing to bet that internal audit is not considered one of the critical functions that gets immediate attention.
As one of my co-conversationalists said, "We're not curing cancer."
Audit is important, but it won't cause the demise of the company if it doesn't do its job for a few days. But more importantly, no one of us is that important. If the department falls apart every time you leave then you have a bigger problem than attendance at GAM can probably solve.
Now, the guy next to me who was playing the bowling game on his smart phone? That's a different story entirely.