Private investigations

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In my early years of working for a customer service organisation, one of the tests we often faced was whether a disgruntled customer was likely to complain and take that complaint to an appearance on the Paul Holmes Show.

If they did, then we were advised to act quickly to resolve the matter and an internal investigation was quickly ensued.

Increasingly we are seeing examples in the media of sporting organisations and other large organisations being similarly held to account for the conduct of their employees. Often an incident has occurred that requires a formal investigation and the employer tries to close ranks. This calls to mind a line in the lyrics of the famous Dire Straits song “this is my investigation, not a public inquiry”.

Often the employer will express frustration at not being able to go about their business before bravely attempting to deal with the incident by conducting the investigation themselves. However, the reality of conducting an internal investigation behind closed doors in an organisation seldom meets with either the media’s expectation and clamour for a news story, or the organisation’s ideal of preserving organisational and employee confidentiality while maintaining positive public relations. The issue can become even more complex for an employer if the police are required to also conduct an investigation.

If as an employer you find yourself faced with the prospect of conducting an investigation of a public nature, or that you consider has the potential to make headlines, then there are a few key steps that you should consider.

Ideally you would already have a policy in place for conducting internal investigations. Then your first step is to carefully establish the terms of the investigation and share those with the key stakeholders involved so that all parties understand what the process will be and the timeline for conducting the investigation.

The second is to engage a qualified and independent investigator to conduct the investigation and in so doing safeguard the integrity of the process.

Your third step should be to also engage a professional communications and media representative who will co-ordinate the public or client interface for the organisation and thereby seek to avoid, or at least minimise, any potential for reputational damage and loss of revenue or sponsorship.

Often organisations look at the expense of contracting in such professionals, when they should be more concerned about the cost of not obtaining the advice. I am aware of one organisation which sought advice and support from both groups of professional consultants and was able to successfully mitigate the cost for what might have been otherwise a substantial loss of reputation.

So as the songs goes, “What have you got at the end of the day? What have you got to take away?” hopefully not “a new set of lies”, but adherence to a robust and thorough process. It is a process that will preserve the organisation’s hard-earned reputation with customers and the public, a reputation that means everything, as some customer service driven organisations have discovered to their cost.

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About Author

Greg Cateley

Human Resource Specialist, Everest Group.
Waikato HR specialists / www.everestgroup.co.nz

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