There are two reasons why planning an investigation before diving into questioning is important:
- The investigation forms the basis of a decision that is eventually made. And these can be pretty big decisions, so a quality investigation = quality decision
- A fair and thorough investigation will stand up to tribunal scrutiny. Many managers aren’t aware of how significant a part an investigation can play in a tribunal hearing.
Before we dive into how you as a HR professional can support your managers in using the technique, a quick note on who is going to do it. In our experience there are two types of people to avoid:
- Those that really, really do not want to do it.
- Those that really, really do want to do it.
We don’t want someone to be really eager to get stuck in because ‘scope creep’ is a very real threat. It can undermine the quality of the investigation. So, pick someone who will get stuck into the issues that really need to be considered, and give them structure!
A 3-Part Technique for Planning an Investigation
Managers need to look for evidence in these three areas:
- What actually happened
- What the relevant policies or rules are
- What the relevant surrounding circumstances might have been
- What actually happened
Step back and define what it is that they are really looking into. It sounds obvious, but so often there are already labels such as ‘bullying’ or ‘harassment’ flying around (amongst other things), that scope creep kicks in. And if you get to this situation, it makes investigating and report writing much more difficult.
Being crystal clear on the issues that are in scope also gives managers the confidence to probe deeper into those issues to draw out the evidence. We cover a host of valuable questioning techniques that they can use here, and our investigations training gives managers a matrix they can use to plan their question’s theme by theme, and so avoid a list.
2. What the relevant policies or rules are
It’s not the investigator’s job to define whether the incident was bullying or harassment (for example). It’s their job to compare what it is they have found to have happened, against the relevant policies and rules within the organisation.
[enter multiple sighs of relief from the room!]
Comparing these two things makes the decision less subjective, it makes managers much more confident in saying ‘yes, I have a genuine belief that there is evidence that there was a breach of that policy’ and it unearths if there is a less than clear or consistent application of the rules.
3. The relevant surrounding circumstances
This part of the technique helps to make the investigation genuinely balanced, as it encourages your managers to pick up on both the ‘mitigating’ and ‘aggravating’ circumstances that surround what they have found has actually happened. The fact that a person has been informally counselled not to do something in the past is not evidence they have done it this time, but it is evidence they knew what the rules were.
It also helps to ensure the investigation unearths important reasons for behaviour – such as underlying mental ill health for example.
Once you have worked through these three questions, your managers will have a list of points to look into and therefore a crystal-clear remit and a plan for a balanced investigation.
How can I help my managers with this technique?
We have built a matrix which maps out everything managers need to use the technique. It breaks down the allegations, the witnesses and what documents they need to look into in a way which will separate each allegation into their constituent parts. All the information is in one place and is comparable, so it is a really handy tool. We delve deeper into how to use this for planning an investigation in our training and with our digital learning tools from 10to3.
After using the technique, our clients have noted an significant improvement in the work that their management teams do …and 100% of managers reported an increase in confidence!