By Meric Craig Bloch
From Compliance & Ethics Professional, a publication for SCCE members.
After enough investigations, you start getting a bit jaded. You feel that you only encounter what goes wrong in your company. You never seem to be working in that part of the company that gets awards, high fives, and invitations to those all-expenses-paid trips to the Bahamas. Instead, people get fired, someone always winds up in tears during their interview, and no one benefits from cooperating with the investigation process. (The best that can happen to them is nothing at all.)
You try not to lose the human touch while investigating, so reporters are often the first people in an investigation to gain your sympathy. They tell you compelling stories about someone else’s outrageous behavior or unfairness, and how the problems have created a toxic atmosphere in the office. The pattern continues with other colleagues. By the time you are finished interviewing the witnesses, you are perplexed about how such an awful co-worker (or boss) has avoided his comeuppance until now.
A sense of humanity is crucial for any investigator. Not only do you need a human touch when dealing with others – a key to soliciting valuable information – you need to see the humanity in them. But that doesn’t mean you reflexively accept their characterizations or their impressions of the potential misconduct. Doing that would effectively mortgage the credibility of your investigation to the veracity of your reporter and witnesses. Balance the need to be skeptical with an appropriate sensitivity.
Don’t unintentionally hamstring your investigation by searching only for evil-doers. Despite the excitement of an investigation to smite evil from your company and an understandable desire to act on the side of the angels, most workplace investigations are less glamorous. Even when misconduct is substantiated, the misconduct may be unintentional. The “bad guys” do exist in your company. But, when faced with a choice between incompetence and intentional misconduct, bet incompetence every time. That person is going to be the exception among your investigated colleagues. So unless you are sure it’s something worse, assume it was not intentional misconduct like fraud and theft. If the motives turn out to be more sinister than you expected, the investigation will bear that out.
[bctt tweet=”When faced with a choice between incompetence and intentional misconduct, bet incompetence every time @fraudinvestig8r” via=”no”]
So keep your humanity and accept theirs. Gather the information you get from them, but don’t assume anyone’s good faith. Judge everyone’s credibility, and remember that even bad-faith reporters can be telling the truth. Only the facts you develop in the investigation will prove whether the reporter is truly aggrieved and a good corporate citizen, or a vindictive character assassin looking for your help to settle some past score. Just don’t get sidetracked because someone tugged at your sympathies or your sense of fair play.
Meric Craig Bloch is the Compliance Officer for the North American divisions of Adecco SA. He has conducted more than 300 workplace investigations of fraud and serious workplace misconduct, and is an author and frequent public speaker on the workplace investigations process. Follow Meric on Twitter @fraudinvestig8r.