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Guest Blog: Vigilant Leadership Protects, Enhances Profession

Opportunities Over the Horizon

Bob Treadway, principal of Treadway & Associates Inc., is a globally recognized consultant who helps organizations and individuals confront uncertainty and take action on the future. He will discuss “Vigilant Leadership: Looking Over the Horizon for Risk, Innovation and Opportunity” at the 2014 Governance, Risk, and Control (GRC) Conference, hosted by The Institute of Internal Auditors and ISACA, Aug. 18-20 in Palm Beach, Fla.

Over the years, I’ve watched the stock for internal audit and information security skyrocket. New threats, new risks and unforeseen caginess on the part of bad people – organizations are vulnerable in ways unimaginable only a decade ago.  This has raised the value and visibility of the watchdogs of such risks, those belonging to groups such as The Institute of Internal Auditors and ISACA.

But there also are challenges for auditors in maintaining and enhancing their value. I believe the future calls for internal audit and information security professionals to not only be vigilant of what’s on the horizon, but to become more of an anticipator for what lies far beyond.

The predictive analytics tools used for insight and warning are evolving into a threat to the auditor’s job. Researchers in academia are forecasting the takeover of formerly exclusively human functions by artificial intelligence, and auditors are squarely in that zone. A recent analysis of the work of Oxford professors Carl Frey and Michael Osborne on the automation of jobs identified the audit profession as one of those most deeply affected in the next decade.

Certainly, technological revolutions have forced shifts in jobs for many centuries, but Frey and Osborne make a compelling case for the impact on non-routine, cognitive tasks like those performed by auditors. The response should be to move to a new level of ability and effectiveness.

Internal audit leadership already is calling for an increased ability to raise value in the profession. In a recent conversation with a top volunteer leader in this field, I heard an urgent call for professionals to “see around corners.” I have heard this phrase before from Fortune 500 management. It is one of the abilities I have helped improve for attendees at programs for the Institute for Management Studies over the past 20 years. Many of those attendees have, in turn, helped me refine the lessons, given me examples of how they have put the learning to practice, and provided some great stories of success.

I will be passing along this learning in my presentation at the Governance, Risk, and Control Conference. I will discuss techniques involving anticipation, risk avoidance and foresight that attendees can put to use. This isn’t rocket science. No deeply convoluted analyses. Not even much in the way of technology. Just examples of common sense, everyday innovation, group collaboration, forward thinking and incisive observation.

That’s what I mean by “vigilant leadership.” These are techniques for the front line. Most of my examples do not come from the C-suite. They are from people who want to get essential information to do their job better, avoid nasty surprises, and add value for internal and external customers.

They range from forecasting staffing needs to projecting very accurate estimates of revenue and performance six months to a year out. While these are not typical examples from internal audit or information security, the techniques apply there. They are from department managers, sales executives, internal economists and even human resources departments – the sort of collaborators internal auditors and IT experts should strongly consider adding to their department’s key alliances.

I will also point out several items each can add to their own personal habits to enhance awareness and anticipation. These will not take any more time in an already busy day, but they will enable individuals to focus their attention and become recognized as smart, well-informed professionals whom colleagues can trust.

Being a vigilant leader is not only about “you.” It is about passing along methods, techniques, attitudes, and thought discipline to everyone in an organization who can reduce risk, engage in best practices, enhance enterprise reputation, and help in the quest for even more effective governance, risk, and control.