A Coda to the Light at the End of the Tunnel of the Epiphany (or, Let's Talk About Disneyland)

Okay, I swear. After all my ruminations and pontifications and rants and proselytizing over the last few blog posts I really planned on giving everyone (including me) a break. But I’ve got a trip to Disneyland coming up and, while for many people that would be just one more excuse to figuratively get outta Dodge, it got me thinking. “But what,” you might ask, “Would Disneyland have to do with internal audit?”

Let me tell you a story. In the early 90’s, I was making a number of trips to our home office in Los Angeles. One morning I somnambulated out of the terminal to climb into the shuttle that would take me to the office.  As the shuttle began the three circuit trip that was required before they would actually leave LAX (the fuller the shuttle, the higher the profits) I noticed a bus emblazoned with Disney characters. The obvious destination was Disneyland. (If the characters didn’t give it away, the giant “Destination Disneyland” sign wrapped around it did.) I ruefully (and blearily-eyed) stared out the window whining to myself, “I wanna go to Disneyland.”
Maybe it was a lack of caffeine, maybe it was the strong desire for Disney pixie dust, maybe it was just one of those brain bubbles of questionable inspiration we get every once in a while, but I took that complaint to the next illogic thought. “Why is it my trips to Home Office can’t be as exciting as going to Disneyland?” Rather than either castigate myself for asking such a silly question or (maybe worse) try to answer it, I continued to follow my brain bubble’s lead and asked an even more ridiculous question.  “Why can’t an audit be like a trip to Disneyland? Why is it our auditees cannot be as excited to see us as they would be to see a bus headed to Disneyland?”
Believe it or not, our Audit Department took that concept and worked through some of the ramifications.  In particular, it led to practical discussions about what we were providing to our customers - what they wanted, what they needed, and what the experience of audit might be like. (File this under stories to tell at a later time including the group that showed they were ready to embrace the “Audit as Disneyland” concept and, in one short day, were shot down by their short-sighted manager.  Also, anyone interested in seeing some of the original materials we used, let me know.)
Fast forward a few years. We were doing some of our first work in process mapping – completing analysis of branch claims operations. Our approach to process mapping can be a bit non-audit like. We tend to take over a meeting room, festoon it with maps and yellow stickies, wrap interviewees in our paper blizzard, and make the event of an audit a true “experience” for the entire office. We would literally have people come in the meeting room to see our progress.  During this work, we saw a true “Disneyland” moment occur. We went into an office we had visited the prior year. One of the employees said to a new hire (and I am not making this up), “The auditors are here. This is so much fun. You are going to love it.”
Now, I’m not going to claim we pulled off “Pirates of the Caribbean”, but we had built a memorable experience that built excitement within the office; so memorable that employees looked forward (lather, rinse, repeat – looked forward) to Auditing coming in and completing a review.
Back to the original point: “Why can’t an audit be like Disneyland?” It may not be possible (in fact, there’s a good chance it won’t be possible) in every engagement. However, that shouldn’t stop you from trying to make it true in every case - just like striving for Excellence in all activities. (See? This is how it all comes from the prior posts). Face it; a Disneyland experience instantly qualifies an activity as Excellent
And I’ll put one more Disney spin on this whole thing.  Disney is all about story – the story of its movies, the story of its rides, the story of the various lands. Similarly your audit department is the stories that are told about it.  Your customers do not talk about the tests or the meetings or the report (no, they aren’t really talking about the report). Your customers tell stories about you – the story about the test you conducted, the story about the meeting you held, the story about that report. In the minds of your customers, you are those stories. In our process mapping we had one auditee telling a story of fun and excitement when the auditors came to town.
There is one more discussion we could go into at this time – a discussion about you as an auditor or (maybe more importantly) as a leader, and the stories that you are causing to be told about you.  A discussion about the legacy you form with every day of Excellence you do or do not achieve.  But I’m getting as tired of all this as the rest of you. Again, if you’re interested, feel free to contact me.
But let’s go back to Disneyland for one last thing.  I am visiting the Happiest Place on Earth for two things.  First, Monday I get the chance to be at the IIA’s Western Regional Conference at the Disneyland Hotel. Then, Friday and Saturday, I will be attending Disney’s Destination D Event where other fans and I will get the chance to hear about the development of Disneyland from some of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney.
So, check in here next week. No promises, but I’ll try and provide some updates on both events – what is being said about auditing, and what the world of Disneyland might have to say about the audit profession. (I mean this metaphorically – I am hard pressed to believe anyone will actual use the phrase “Internal Audit” during the entire Destination D experience.) You can also follow me on Twitter (I post as “figre”, or just search for Mike Jacka – I’m the one who isn’t a real estate agent.) Again no promises, but I’ll see what I can see.
And, with that, I’ll just quote Dada. “I’m Going to Dizz Knee Land.”

Posted on Sep 17, 2010 by Mike Jacka

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  1. Mike, thanks for the fun and thought-provoking post.  This got me thinking about the perception of internal audit and how it certainly can be improved, but it may take some creativity and imagination.  I'd appreciate if you'd send me the original materials you used when you first started the "Disney audit approach."  Many thanks! 

  1. I am brand new in auditing and open to all kinds of crazy new ideas.  I would love to see some of the original materials your team used for the "Disney Audit Approach"!

  1. I am brand new to auditing and open to every new idea I come across.  I would love to see your original 'Disney Audit Concept' materials.

  1. Thanks Mike

    Interesting perspective  on how to remake IA. I would be interested in reading over the marterials that you mention.



  1. Hmm, this is the first time I ever heard someone actually said audit visit can be fun, especially for the auditee. Given the fact that you've done it for quite some time now, I wonder why the concept never got introduced widely. It's sure is a nice different approach for the auditee and sure to have increased benefit too. I'd love to go through the material you mentioned. Be waiting for the next story installment on the short-sighted manager.
  1. Thanks Jacka,

    I like the "Disneyland audit approach" and I'd be grateful if you could share the original materials you used to change the negative perception to IA by your auditees.

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