Employee Investigations Used to be Disruptive, Verensics Fixed That
“Employee investigations can be described in one word. Disruptive.”
I hear this over and over from Human Resources, Security, and Compliance Directors when the topic of employee investigations comes up.
Based upon my own experience, I have to agree. The way most workplace investigations are handled is incredibly disruptive due to a laundry list of challenges. Investigations are time consuming, expensive, embarrassing for interviewees, cause loss of productivity, and damage morale as they drag on.
I was first introduced to employee investigations over twenty years ago when I worked for ExxonMobil in the Global Security Department, and luckily, I had an amazing mentor who taught me how to navigate investigative interviews. Still, with every investigation I have led or assisted with over the years, I always believed that there should be a better way that is less expensive, less disruptive, and gets me the information that I need faster.
There had to be a way to scale investigations and close them faster with more confidence, I was sure of it.
However, I recognized that there were some serious challenges to overcome. Few things have changed for employee investigations in the past twenty years, and certainly no earth-shattering breakthroughs. For example, case management platforms now help investigators coordinate the process and collaborate between teams, but the process remains mostly the same as two decades ago. If technology were to truly impact the investigative process, it would need to get to the heart of the challenges within the that process.
It Takes Time to Investigate
According to NAVEX Global, it takes 45 days on average to complete an investigation. Each investigation is unique, and while some can be closed within a few days, some drag out for months. There are three separate aspects to this:
- The investigator coordinating calendars for interviews, and each of those interviews can take several hours
- The target and other interviewees spend several hours off the shop floor, and they spend unproductive time worrying about their interview with HR, Legal, or Security
- After the interview is completed, each report takes hours to produce
So, on a really productive day, an investigator can realistically hope to accomplish 2 to 3 completed reports. This doesn’t take into consideration travel time and expenses.
Shot in the Dark
Investigations are set in motion in many different ways – an accusation from a colleague, a discovery in an audit, an anonymous tip. In all of these situations, the investigator begins with limited information and starts the journey to discover the truth.
This journey has to start somewhere, and there is always a question of who to interview first. You can’t interview more than one person at a time. Sometimes the answer to this question is obvious, but many times it is not (due to a whole list of variables and considerations). Unfortunately, this situation often results in the investigator making their best guess, and the accuracy of that guess is crucial to the path that the rest of the investigation takes.
After the initial incident report comes in, it can take a while to get the investigation started. Other investigations are taking time to close, there is a training next week, or a key interviewee is on vacation. All these delays add up, and the delay itself causes a disruption.
First, it probably took the person who brought the allegation forward a lot of courage to do so. They begin to feel like nobody cares and they lose faith in the company when they perceive that there is no progress around their allegation. Their productivity suffers while they spend time wondering if anyone is going to do anything about their report or if the colleague who they reported knows about it. Second, if there is criminal activity going on, that activity is alive and well while the investigator is delayed. There is a snowball effect when delays pile up.
How good is the investigator?
Without my mentor to help me learn how to conduct effective investigative interviews, I would have been lost. And, the investigations that I led would have been a less effective (i.e. a big mess). Investigative interviewing is an art and a science, and there are differences in the interviewing capabilities of every investigator. A corporate investigator also has fewer tools than a police investigator when it comes to persuading an interviewee to cooperate. Therefore, an experienced investigator has the knowledge and intuition to move a case efficiently forward, but an inexperienced investigator will move much less efficiently.
It Gets Embarrassing
Face-to-face investigative interviews are often extremely embarrassing and uncomfortable to the employee. The anxiety starts when they get a call or an email from HR, Security, or the Legal department that goes something like this, “We need to schedule an interview with you about an ongoing investigation. You shouldn’t talk to your colleagues about it, but don’t you worry about a thing.”
I’ve taken some poetic license here, but what is going on in their heads is, “Am I in trouble? Is this about Joe in accounting? If I am honest, will my boss take it out on me?” Once they take the walk of shame to the office where the interview is happening, and the interview begins, it can get even more awkward and adversarial, depending on the prowess of the investigator.
Things can get awkward for the investigator too. If they are intimidated by the interviewee’s position in the company, they may let suspicions go just to check the box and get that interview over with.
So, We Decided to do Something About It
Earlier I said that technology had not yet impacted the investigative process, but actually that has now changed. Verensics’ investigative platform changes the game. It is an adaptive web platform that conducts investigative interviews online. The platform mimics a face-to-face interview with an experienced investigator or industrial psychologist, adjusting topics, questions, and feedback to the interviewee in real time based on their performance. And, it directly addresses all of the challenges I mentioned above:
Time taken on interviews and reports: The Verensics interview takes about 20 minutes and the system generates the report. All that is left for the investigator to do is to decide who to follow up with (and in some cases, just to confirm an admission and close the case). Based on the results, you can also drastically reduce the people who you need talk to face-to-face. A recent investigation conducted by a client saw 77 potential interviewees reduced to 12 after they deployed Verensics.
Employee time off of the shop floor: The platform supports multiple candidates taking the interview at the same time, and therefore significantly reduces the amount of time that employees are away from their tasks.
Who to interview first: Instead of deciding who to interview first, how about we interview everyone at the same time? The interview link is sent via email to all interviewees at the same time, and they have a deadline to complete it.
Delays getting started: There is no longer any reason to delay. Once you’ve identified who you need to interview (usually the target and those people in their orbit) you trigger the batch of emails. The system then sends a link to everyone that lets them know that they need to complete the interview as part of an investigation. The system automatically sends a reminder if they haven’t taken it before the deadline. You can literally initiate hundreds of interviews within a few minutes of receiving an incident report.
Investigator experience: Our platform is based on the best practices of investigators and industrial-organizational psychologists with decades of experience, and it is backed up by 100 academic studies. Your investigations will consistently begin on the right foot, and the reports generated by the system guide inexperienced investigators to the right conclusions and next steps.
Getting past embarrassment and inconsistency: Interviewees can complete the interview from their own office or other comfortable setting, and there is no need to schedule an interview in most cases. Verensics levels the playing field for everyone, making it the most efficient, unbiased, and respectful way to conduct an investigation, whether the investigation involves 2 people or 200 people.
In the case I mentioned above, where the user reduced 77 interviews to 12, it would have taken one of their investigators nearly a year to do what Verensics did for them in two weeks. And, those 12 face-to-face interviews were much shorter than they would have been otherwise, due to the investigator already having the Verensics report in hand.
One of the highlights of that case is that the target of the investigation (who didn’t know he was the target) actually came forward after taking the interview to ensure that he was in compliance with the organization’s conflict of interest. During that conversation, the investigator got the information needed to clear the target of the allegation. This is an important lesson to remember about investigations that is often forgotten – the goal of in investigation is to discover the truth, and it is just as important to quickly clear an accusation as it is to confirm guilt.
The return on investment in this example is massive and has ripple effects throughout the organization, Take into consideration that they saved not only a year of work, but they saved a year of the target working under the shadow of an accusation.
Verensics is a tool that I wish I had when I started conducting employee investigations twenty years ago. It enables investigators to react faster, increase efficiency, reduce costs, and close cases with more confidence. In short, it is orders of magnitude less disruptive than the current process.
If you would like to know more about the Verensics investigation platform, I invite you to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to sharing more with you and helping you improve your investigation process in ways you never imagined.