GRC: So Simple, A First Grader Gets It!

By Jason Rohlf

A few weeks back, I found myself unable to sleep. Laying awake in my bed, my mind raced and my heart pounded as I thought about the meeting that awaited me the following morning. I couldn’t remember being this nervous about any meeting ever. Throughout my career I have found myself presenting to executives, senior managers, auditors, boards of directors, rooms full of strangers, and of course, the supervisors who lorded over my livelihood, and yet I had a sinking feeling that none of these situations could have prepared me for the challenge I was about to face:

How do I explain the life of a GRC professional to a room full of first-graders???

When I first heard that my son’s first grade class was looking for parents to speak during Career Week, I looked before I leaped and happily volunteered my time. Then the butterflies set in. I had a hard enough time explaining what I did to my friends and family members. Those who actually remembered that had I gotten my degree in Accounting would constantly ask me if tax season was very busy for me, despite the fact that 1) I took only two tax classes in college and 2) after passing the CPA I happily left Accounting in the dust. Nobody seemed to have the slightest idea what the heck GRC was or why it mattered, so you can only imagine my trepidation about talking about my job in front of a bunch of six- and seven-year-olds.

As the day of the presentation approached, I began to realize that this was going to be tougher than I had originally thought. One kid’s mom is a children’s book author, something that plays quite well to a room full of aspiring readers. Another boy’s parents own a few McDonald’s, and I stared in horror at the pictures of my smiling son in an apron and hat preparing cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers! I was doomed.

I soon realized that the only way to tackle this challenge would be to treat it as I would treat any important business meeting—with a healthy dose of thought and preparation. How do I get these kids to understand the importance of the job we do? How do I explain to my son why I get on a plane so often? How do I show them that what we do really matters? I figured that the best way I could approach this challenge was to put GRC in terms they could easily relate to. Here’s what I came up with:

1.Take Care of Stuff

I asked the class if they had toys, allowance, a Wii, or any other stuff that mattered to them (they did). Then I asked them if they thought keeping all of these things out on their front lawn was a good idea. “No! I don’t want my stuff stolen! We need to take care of it and keep it somewhere safe!” Thus was born the concept of implementing controls to protect assets.

2. Stop Bad Things from Happening

Next, I asked the class what happens when they’re not careful. For example, what happens when you aren’t safe on the jungle gym? “You can break your arm or your head!” What happens if you talk to strangers? “They could take you away!” Well, as consultants we help companies think of the bad things that might happen and help them find ways to stop them or make them better. And there you have Risk Management.

3. Follow the Rules

“Who makes the rules at home?” “MOM AND DAD!” “How about here at school?” “TEACHERS!” “Well, what would you say if you had to pay your teacher, your mom, or your dad $1 every time you got in trouble?” (nooooo!). “How about $1,000?” (NOOOO!!!!) “How about….$1 MILLION?? (AAAAAAAAAA!!!!). Consultants help companies know what the rules are and make sure they follow them and avoid those big, nasty payments. Think Governance and Regulatory Compliance.

4. Get Better

“Why do you go to school, soccer practice or music lessons?” “So we can learn and get better.” Exactly. An important part of our jobs is to find ways to continue the cycle of continuous evaluation and improvement. The best companies and people never stop getting better at what they do. Continuous Improvement as an overarching theme.

I couldn’t believe it…they got it! These kids asked some really neat, interesting questions and seemed to get where I was coming from. What a relief! After tackling the topic of GRC, I moved on to the more lively part of the conversation which centered around my many travels over the years. I decided to pull down the map so I could wow the youngsters with all of the great places I’ve been. As I bounced around the map, I searched for Kiev and was momentarily confused as I couldn’t seem to locate the Ukraine (and I’m no geography slouch). Upon closer examination I finally found Kiev…smack dab on the western edge of the U.S.S.R.! I think I know what I’ll be contributing to the first-grade class come fundraising time.

What did I learn from this very important, very satisfying meeting? How did I take a seemingly complex or convoluted concept and make it resonate with a tough audience? For starters, keep it simple. Don’t talk above their heads and don’t over-explain. Just stick to the basics and let the details fill in organically. Inquisitive minds will want to know more. Also, put things in terms the audience can easily relate to, which keeps the interest level much higher. And finally, never underestimate the importance of preparation and practice. If I can hold their attention as much as cheeseburgers can, you can do the same.

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