An effective investigation begins with the right objectives. We’ve witnessed the importance of this recently with the botched investigation conducted by Renault SA, where investigators jumped to conclusions that resulted in innocent people being let go from the company. Defining the objectives of an investigation forces investigators to sit down and think about what steps they need to take, and ultimately, what issue(s) the investigation is trying to solve. Understanding the objectives of an investigation helps ensure that the investigation is carried out in an organized fashion and is focused on getting to the bottom of the issue.
The importance of setting objectives
“Experience has shown that carefully crafting objectives at the onset of the investigation provides substantial dividends later. In addition to setting the project’s course, carefully articulated objectives contribute substantially to one’s ability to defend the process should it be later challenged.”
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The objectives for each investigation will be different. Make sure goal setting/objection setting is one of the first things you do when you receive a complaint or allegation. Setting objectives at the outset of an investigation gives you a direction to go in. If you try and set objectives after you’ve started an investigation, you risk making decisions based on a single event and not the big picture – which could potentially ruin the entire investigation.
In the “Guide to Conducting Workplace Investigations” handout from the SCCE’s 2009 Compliance and Ethics Institute, Meric Craig Bloch writes:
“An investigation is, in the first instance, fact-finding. Investigations determine, fully and credibly, what happened with respect to a particular incident – whether suspected conduct did or did not take place; what the circumstances were; who was involved; whether a violation of law or company policy occurred. An investigation must be perceived as having been thorough, independent and analytical.”
Here’s a list of some of the common objectives you’ll want to set for your investigation:
- Identify the people involved: Complainant, subject and any witnesses.
- Underlying causes of the incident: This can be a number of things, such as lack of training, unsafe working conditions or a personal reason.
- Has the law been violated? Misconduct such as theft, harassment and discrimination are illegal. If the investigation involves an incident the breaks the law, make sure the appropriate people are notified and proper action is taken.
- Determine fact from fiction: You need accurate facts in order to come to an appropriate conclusion. Learn how to detect when someone is lying to you.
- Correcting the incident: Determine what needs to be done to prevent the incident from occurring again. Corrective action could include anything from reprimanding the perpetrator to rewriting company policies.
You’ll likely have to add additional objectives to this list based on the type of misconduct you’re investigating. Going into an investigation with clear objectives reduces the risk of the investigation and keeps investigators on track.