“I feel the need, the need for speed.”
For those of us raised in the 80s, this is the battle cry of Top Gun’s Maverick and Goose. But for many folks tasked with conducting internal workplace investigations, this quote may also call to mind the manager, lawyer, union leader, complainant or Board member that puts pressure on them to start (and finish) their investigation quickly.
Our firm regularly offers training on conducting effective workplace investigations. We begin each session by discussing a number of topics relating to what we call “initial considerations” for investigators to think about prior to actually starting the investigation. This includes topics such as notifying the parties of the investigation, determining the mandate, and choosing between a formal or informal process.
Invariably, while discussing these topics, participants seek to ask questions relating to later stages of the process: interviews, decision-making or reporting. This is understandable, given that these areas are where people tend to focus their investigation efforts and are also where the more noticeable problems can arise. However, we are always careful to stress the importance of not rushing through these initial considerations and diving into the interviews. In our three day course, we spend nearly half a day on topics to be dealt with in advance of the complainant interview. I would suggest that this is roughly proportional to the time that should be allotted to these topics in an actual investigation.
Spending time setting up the process is important. For example, by taking 30 minutes at the beginning to clarify the specific mandate of the investigation, the investigator creates a foundation on which all other decisions can be built. Who do I interview? What documents do I review? What policy do I apply? All these questions can often be answered simply by looking back at the focused mandate that was established at the beginning of the process.
This is not to say that moving as quickly as possible isn’t important. It is. Just as important, however, is not rushing through the initial considerations in order to begin meeting with the parties. If left unchecked, small mistakes at the beginning tend to expand into significant problems as the process continues. And while the negative impact of speeding through might be less dire than it was for our old pal Goose, it’s still worth investing a little time at the beginning to ensure that the process starts off moving in the right direction.