The Price of Poor Investigations vs the Cost of Effective Training

Compliance, regulation and ethics strategies are primarily focused on prevention, which goes hand in hand with detection. Effective, timely investigations are a key element of prevention and are essential to detection.

A well conducted investigations will:

  • Identify weak or flawed systems
  • Minimise risk
  • Protect the organisation’s image/reputation
  • Enable steps to eliminate opportunities for wrongdoing
  • Enable recovery of assets
  • Support criminal or civil proceedings

An investigation involves a systematic and robust examination of relevant incidents or actions aimed at gathering, validating and retaining information that will help to establish facts and support decision-making. It usually culminates in a Report.

There is no “one size fits all” investigation. The framework, terms of reference, tools and techniques utilised by the investigators depend on the context and the standard of proof required. The investigation approach adopted will be based on a belief concerning what will best prevent, detect and explain the matter under investigation. However, the approach should also reflect the value and goals that the organisation wishes to be synonymous with. If things go wrong, an external arbiter will examine whether or not the investigation was adequate, timely and conducted in an appropriate manner.

If the answer to these questions is no, then the financial, reputational, human resources costs to an organisation could be substantial. The cost to individuals in terms of wellbeing, career prospects and reputations will also be considerable.

As a starting point, all organisations should have a policy for how investigations are instigated and conducted. This should include minimum standards relating to fair procedures, appropriate methods and approaches. It should also include considerations about the individual(s) deployed to conduct the investigation, including their specific experience, qualifications and specialisation in the matter to be investigated.

Competence of Investigators

Conducting investigations professionally is a skill that requires a broad range of competencies. The quality of the investigation is directly related to the competence of the investigator(s). Experience alone does not denote competence and the experience of the investigator does not guarantee an effective, robust, appropriate investigation. Many investigators have considerable experience in conducting investigations but may not engage in a process of constant reflection on their practice to ensure it is in line with latest leading practice or empirical research. In addition, many investigators have considerable experience investigating one type of misconduct and little experience in others.

The Price of Poor Investigations

The risks associated with flawed investigations are significant and can expose organisations and individuals to substantial financial, legal and reputational cost, not to mention the detrimental effect it can have on the wellbeing of one or all the parties concerned.

Effective investigations, on the other hand, have an important role in preventing wrong-doing, protecting the organisation’s public image and reputation and identifying areas of unacceptable risk or flawed operations which could expose the organisation to unnecessary scrutiny.

Some of the most common errors made during an investigation include:

  • Failure to Conduct an Investigation Promptly
  • Failure to engage in pre-planning
  • Failure to set Terms of Reference (TOR) or failure to adhere to the TOR
  • Failing to follow a process that can be perceived as independent and non-biased
  • Failure to apply Procedural Fairness
  • Failure to Gather all Relevant Information
  • Failure to secure the evidence

These errors can be distilled down to the same issue; untrained or poorly trained investigators. The type of training undertaken by the investigator is hugely relevant. Inadequate training results in benefits that are short-lived, fail to transfer to the workplace and fail to change or enhance practice. It is argued that training should be seen as a “tangible expression of a more significant changing of expectations and values”. These expectations and values are what are exposed when inadequate or unethical approaches are undertaken.

Training design needs to address the needs of the trainees and the organisation. Training should develop effective tools to maintain best practice and provide a framework to encourage the self-analysis of that practice.

Benefits of Training

There are a number of reasons why people fail to reflect on or change their behaviours or practice. They include:

  • They do not know what they don’t know
  • They think they are doing fine already
  • They do not realise the need to change
  • They fear failure
  • They feel overwhelmed
  • They are not aware of other options
  • They are isolated with nobody to share ideas, fears, and concerns with.

Effective training offers the time and safe space for investigators to stretch their comfort zone and to engage in problem-based and peer learning. The safe environment created by effective training enables reflection and exploration. It provides the space to develop investigative mind-sets and approaches that will positively impact their ability to perform in their role and engage in sound decision-making. However, research shows that training needs to be designed around problem-solving and practice in order to engage the delegates. It also needs to be reinforced and supported with memorable frameworks and tools for workplace application.

In my experience of designing and delivering training programmes to investigators and investigation managers from a broad range of investigative agencies, I have seen individuals transform and embrace new ideas and methods many times. On many occasions, I have heard how they had not considered what might seem to be small things but make such a big difference in practice.  The time and money invested in the training saves time and resources in the long run and is miniscule compared to the costs of ‘getting it wrong’.