Your boss calls you in and says “There has been an incident I want you to carry out an investigation.” Does this sound familiar? The issue might be an allegation of misconduct against a staff member, perhaps discriminatory behaviour or harassment. It could be an attack on your company’s assets, either internally or externally. Whatever the situation is, it’s serious and requires a formal response.
These types of situations occur all too frequently and often the person charged with looking into them may be a competent manager, or even a member of the Human Resources Department but they may not necessarily have the experience or knowledge to carry out formal investigations. The results of any intervention can never be anything other than serious for those concerned. If the investigation is carried out professionally then the true facts will emerge. Get it wrong and the consequences could be disastrous for all parties.
There are many models of investigation and perhaps the simplest is Retrieval, Analysis and Presentation or RAP for short. Whether you are looking at a HR type situation such as bullying or you are hoping to solve a murder on the Orient Express both these inquiries would follow these three stages. Unfortunately Hercule Poirot is unlikely to be on hand to help.
Let’s use a simple scenario to illustrate the model, not involving the discovery of a body on a luxury train but something more familiar. Jill, an accounts clerk has complained that Derek her manager has been behaving inappropriately towards her. She has told colleagues that he has been making comments about her appearance, sometimes in front of others and telephoning her on his company mobile phone during the evening suggesting they meet for a drink. This is potentially very serious for both Jill and Derek but also for the reputation of the organisation.
The first stage of the investigation is Retrieval. This means identifying possible sources of evidence and recovering them. This might be interviewing witnesses or recovering physical pieces of evidence such as documentation or CCTV images. There needs to be careful planning to ensure that you are acting lawfully and proportionately. Often you will only get one chance to do this correctly. For Inspector Poirot this would doubtless mean bumbling along the train and having thirty second conversations with everyone he encounters and not needing to write anything down. He would also astonishingly discover the murder weapon in no time at all despite it having been carefully hidden by the miscreant. However real life isn’t really like that.
In our scenario the first source of evidence is to obtain an account of events from Jill. Obviously this is a sensitive exercise and requires meticulous planning. There are well established processes for interviewing both witnesses and those suspected of wrongdoing. The model used by the police is known as PEACE, unfortunately we haven’t time to fully explore this in this short article but it will be fully covered during Investigative Training.
Before the interview takes place the investigator must consider things such as where should Jill be interviewed? Who should be present? Bearing in mind the sensitive nature of the complaint what gender should the interviewers be? How shall we record the interview – just in writing or should some form of audio and or visual recording be considered? During the actual interview, what topics should be covered? This can be daunting for the investigator but Investigative Training will explain the process and use simple models such as the nine box grid to plan which topics to cover, and the five part statement model to give a simple structure for recording Jill’s account.
Once the interview has taken place the investigation moves into the Analysis phase. This would mean examining Jill’s account and perhaps looking for any conflicting aspects or things that might support her version. For example, if she says that Derek has made comments in front of others then more interviews may be needed with colleagues. If as Jill states Derek has been using his company mobile phone to make calls to her out of hours then his phone records could be recovered to corroborate Jill’s story. Part of any investigative training course would include explaining what is known as the ‘Investigative Mindset’ to help with this process.
Once the Analysis phase has been completed it may be necessary to interview Derek to obtain his version of events. Again, a sensitive process and the PEACE model would assist in planning and implementation.
The final phase of the investigation is Presentation. For Inspector Poirot this would involve gathering all the suspects in the dining car and explaining his brilliant deductive process. The murderer would then break down and immediately confess. For our example this would be explaining findings to senior managers or, more likely if it seems Derek might have a case to answer, arranging some form of misconduct hearing. However, it doesn’t necessarily end there. The matter may end up going to an external body such as an Employment Tribunal or even a Civil Court hearing which might mean that some of those involved have to give evidence. We have all seen TV representations of courtroom witnesses being reduced to quivering wrecks by aggressive lawyers, few people look forward to the experience of testifying. Once again, Investigative Training in the form of a witness preparation course can help prepare for this.
It is easy to see how important an investigation is for all concerned which means that it is essential to get it right. An interviewer needs to ensure that a full and accurate account is taken. All those involved, be they witnesses or a person suspected of crossing the line have rights, and any investigation needs to be professionally carried out, proportionate and thorough.
The investigative process is a daunting undertaking but Investigative Training can give you the skills and knowledge to do a professional job. Who knows, one day you might actually be on the Orient Express……..