7 Ways to Improve Issue Spotting in Workplace Investigations

Solving the case is only part of the job. Great investigators try to understand the big picture.

Posted by Joseph Agins in on August 28th, 2012

So, you have completed all your investigation interviews as well as all of your research, your report is typed up and you even got an admission when you interviewed the suspect. Great job! You can now close your case and send your report over to the decision makers and you’re all done. Right? Wrong!

You may have figured out what happened, who did it, how they did it and maybe even why. However, when it comes to workplace fraud, or any case for that matter, solving the case is only one step in remediation for the organization. We must also focus on “issue spotting” as it is here where the true gold is to be found.

Close the Gaps

I once heard it said that “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Well, how about this one? “Catch one fraudster and put an end to his ability to commit fraud today. Identify, understand and close the gaps that allowed this to happen and put an end to this fraud for a lifetime.”

The same theory can also be made for most other types of workplace misconduct investigations whether they be sexual harassment, discrimination, theft, conflicts of interest, etc. Of course, we will never put an end to all frauds or workplace misconduct issues simply through issues spotting. However, with issue spotting we will be able to make a much greater impact by identifying and remediating gaps and issues and thus reducing overall risk to the organization.

The Big Picture

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Many investigators fall into the first scenario of focusing too much on the individual case and not seeing the big picture. Therefore, it is critical that as investigators we look and always consider the bigger picture and try to identify any and all sorts of procedural gaps that existed that may have helped allow the fraud/misconduct to exist. Unfortunately, the focus in many investigative shops is oftentimes very narrow and focused primarily on simply solving and/or closing out cases.

Solving and closing cases are not terrible things to focus on and good investigators certainly will focus on fact-gathering, getting to the truth and closing out cases in a timely manner. However, great investigators will do all of these things but will also focus on issue spotting and take note when potential “issues” are identified. This way when the case comes to a close, these potential issues can also be provided the responsible department in the organization to work on closing these gaps.

While it is not our job as investigators to fix these gaps, it is most certainly our job to uncover them and refer these potential gaps to the appropriate departments for further review and remediation.

Issue-Spotting Tips

Maybe you and/or your team are already doing this and doing it well and for those of you who are, I applaud you and hope you will provide some tips and feedback in the space provided below. For others wishing to improve in this area I offer the following tips:

  • Talk about “issue spotting” with your peers as well as with your management. Or, if you are “management,” be sure to spend time in meetings focusing on this topic and discussing it amongst the group.
  • Work with others in your organization to understand where issues spotted need to be referred. Depending on the type of issues found, your referral may need to go to different areas or maybe even multiple areas.
  • Create a process to follow-up on referred issues. Sometimes it’s not good enough to simply refer something over and then forget about it. Preferably you will have a process in which reminders are set in order for these issues to be followed up upon in order to keep the recipients accountable.
  • Call out these issues in your final report or create a separate, standardized template that you will use to refer and then track issue reported.
  • Train new investigators to issue spot from the get-go and stress the importance of this in your investigative trainings.
  • Reward and recognize those who do a good job at this and understand the importance of issue spotting.
  • Include this in your QC process and have conversations with investigators when and if key issues are missed and not properly referred on.

There are certainly more tips and best practices and hopefully some additional ones will be included in the feedback to this article. The most important out of all of these listed above is likely the first one. Talk about it! The reason some investigators are not good at this is not because they can’t do it or they don’t care about doing this. It is simply because many don’t understand the importance of this powerful component because it was never stressed to them.

I would venture to say that there are issues not spotted and appropriately referred, escalated and tracked in probably 8 out of 10 investigations. It may be less or it may be more but, either way, there is opportunity for improvement here. Make issue spotting a priority and make your already great investigative work better by providing even more value to your organization.

Joseph Agins
Joseph Agins

CFE, Director of Ethics & Compliance Investigations at Apollo Group

Joseph Agins is the Director of Ethics & Compliance Investigations for Apollo Group, Inc., one of the world's largest private education providers.
As the Director of Ethics & Compliance Investigations for Apollo, Joseph manages the Ethics Helpline as well as oversees the design, execution and completion of all high risk/high profile ethics and compliance related investigations that arise throughout the corporation and its subsidiaries or that are referred by external stakeholders.

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