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Top 5 Pitfalls in Organizational Investigations with Frank DiMarino

Certain critical events may initiate an internal investigation within an organization. These can include receiving a subpoena, facing a regulatory inquiry from federal or state agencies, encountering whistleblower complaints, audit findings, or uncovering any misconduct or impropriety. The depth of these investigations can vary based on the situation, but they invariably entail significant costs. These expenses stem from third-party fees and the disruption of normal business operations.

Investigations should be: Timely, Fair, Objective, and Complete.

For the best outcomes, internal investigations should be conducted by certified professionals who have ideally completed advanced graduate-level courses and undergone extensive training. Organizations embarking on these investigations prioritize hiring highly qualified individuals for the task. An unsuccessful investigation can damage a company’s reputation and credibility, underscoring the importance of entrusting these processes to skilled professionals.

Investigation Pitfalls

What are the pitfalls that an investigation could encounter? Let’s examine some hypothetical scenarios.  Our first example comes from Zenith Financial Group, a large multinational bank, and its investigation in financial improprieties.  The company’s internal investigator focused his work on a junior accountant with a history of minor compliance infractions and prematurely accused him in a direct, confrontational meeting. This investigator ignored external influences that could have contributed to the issue, such as hacking, in a single-minded pursuit that blinded him to key factors. 

Such a decision could ultimately result in wrongful termination, and perhaps even a lawsuit. Avoiding bias and thoroughly collecting all the evidence before making pointed accusations is always preferable. Zenith found itself in an awkward, unprofessional, and potentially combustible situation.

Companies are frequently understaffed and overworked, but there is a consistent necessity for a strong compliance program. The right people, with the right tools for reporting efficiently, ensure that there isn’t pressure to avoid a full audit or rush through the crucial data analysis process.

Pitfalls in Organizational Investigations

Tainting the Credibility and Objectivity of an Investigation

In another possible case, allegations of harassment were made against a project manager at Innovatech Solutions, a well-known tech firm. The investigator, harried by the high-profile nature of the case, indiscriminately shared her suspicions about the accused senior executive, Mark Sullivan. 

Rumors mixed with half-truths and speculations circulated throughout the company, unfairly tarnishing Mark’s reputation. Naturally, rumors will negatively affect the credibility and objectivity of the investigation, and might even impede its success – perhaps witnesses won’t cooperate, or evidence will get buried. What if Mark demanded a defamation settlement? What if the victims never received justice? Confidentiality is a key element of a proper investigation, and qualified, professional compliance personnel would know to safeguard it.

Disorganization and Deferrals

Another possible example saw a leading biotech company face a severe data breach. The investigator overlooked support staff and interns in his mission to find the culprits, eschewing an interview with an intern who would have provided information that would have greatly facilitated the search. In another case, the HR manager assigned to investigate a fashion company’s sales team’s unethical practices had an inadequate and disorganized record-keeping process that resulted in a weak defense for the company.

Furthermore, postponing the investigation with the expectation of self-resolution is yet another potential pitfall. When the hesitancy to report suspicious findings in a company’s contract records meant a delay in formal action-taking, the unethical conduct continued and grew. Eventually, the problem became a much greater issue and an impending scandal.

Successful Investigations and Successful Careers

Drawing lessons from these insights, it’s clear that to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of an investigation, certain pitfalls must be diligently avoided:

  • Jumping to conclusions too quickly can skew the investigation’s direction and outcome. Like assembling a jigsaw puzzle without considering all the pieces, rash decisions can lead to incomplete or incorrect pictures of the situation.
  • Breaking confidentiality can not only undermine the trust in the investigative process but also resemble a sieve, letting crucial information slip through in ways that compromise the integrity of the investigation.
  • Ignoring potential witnesses or relevant facts is akin to painting a landscape but omitting the sky and the ground—it results in an incomplete and unconvincing portrayal of reality.
  • Chaotic or haphazard record-keeping during witness interviews, characterized by lackluster written summaries, can turn the investigation’s documentation into a confusing maze with no clear path, making it hard to discern the facts and conclusions. 
  • Procrastinating on initiating or advancing the investigation can be as detrimental as letting a physical injury go untreated, leading to more severe complications over time.

Avoiding these pitfalls is crucial for conducting a thorough and credible investigation, safeguarding the company’s integrity, and ensuring justice is served with precision and fairness.

Misconduct does not happen in a vacuum. Sometimes, it results from a perfect storm of factors like employee unawareness, ignorance, lack of training, or failure to see the larger implications. A good investigator understands the factors at play and performs a thorough, professional investigation that unearths the root causes of the event. Then, the investigator may even become a strategic adviser to the company, providing recommendations as to how to not only fix the immediate issue but also engage in strategic risk management. 

If you want to become this vital employee and sought-after secret weapon for an increasing number of companies, earning an MSL in Compliance and Risk Management from Seattle University may advance your professional career. Our online degree program is flexible, convenient, and prepares you for real-world career success. Apply for the fall semester now.

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