Recently I had the opportunity to review some very current data regarding employee relations and internal investigations from one of our strategic partners, HRAcuity.  According to their latest benchmark study, there was a significant change in data regarding how organizations are managing their internal investigations processes. Based on this recent data, there was an increase of 23% (as compared to the 2019 study) in organizations implementing consistent employee relations internal investigative processes.  The data shows that organizational leaders in ER and HR are recognizing how dysfunctional it is in having one ER group handling investigations one way and then teams in other locations or regions handling them another.  So, what does this really mean to have a “consistent investigative process” in place?

To begin, let me first shed light on the typical calls that we get in to my company, RPC , from ER and HR executives seeking our help in how to create consistent, internal investigations processes.  It usually goes something like this, “We recently had a meeting with our team and recognized that we’re all sort of doing something different when it comes to handling employee relations issues.  And, this lack of consistency is now really creating an issue for us and our General Counsel has asked us to put together a project to provide training for our team and implement some consistent processes for handling intake of ER issues, conducting witness interviews, documentation, writing investigation reports, and how we handle issues post-investigation. We also know that our team is at so many different levels of experience, and some of our newer team members are really making a lot of mistakes and especially with documentation that our legal counsel has pointed out…”

After talking with leaders in various organizations about their processes, there are 3 Top Strategies that I can share to help your organization make some marked improvements in investigative processes:

  1. Create a specific model for how the ER team actually operates

    There is often confusion over “who handles what” and which types of cases.  And, when there isn’t clarity over what HRBPs handle vs. the ER investigative team vs. the management team, the result is generally a poorly conducted investigation and an increase in internal “turf wars” and conflict. As the data shows in the current HR Acuity benchmark study, a lot of organizations have shifted to a Centralized ER model, which operates solely as an investigative team separate from HR.  And, some organizations have what is called a Mixed Model in which HRBPs share ER responsibilities with a dedicated ER investigative team.  With that said, a lot of organizations simply do not have very organized ER team structures with clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and authority.  And, again, we have some serious dysfunction that leads to this lack of consistency in process. So, the first step to creating a consistent process is to look at the actual structure of the department, how it has been operating, the headcount of investigators, case load per investigator, case types, and analytics such as where most of the internal investigations are coming from. And, then begin to ask some questions about the effectiveness of the current ER team structure (current state) and then define what the ER team desired structure is and why.  In other words, do a gap analysis to then create a strategic plan for change.

  2. Identify, through a needs analysis, what knowledge and skill gaps exist with the current team members regarding how to conduct internal investigations. 

    HR and ER investigators are generally the professionals who must handle allegations of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and other types of employee misconduct cases.  One of the best ways to conduct a needs analysis is to look back on previous cases.  What went well?  What didn’t go so well? What did the documentation look like?  What did Legal say about how it went?  What about the work product the investigators are producing?  Do the investigative reports make sense?  Are they clearly written–or is Legal ripping their hair out because the reports are filled with mistakes? Once the knowledge and skill gaps are identified, the next step is to implement an effective training intervention on how to conduct HR and Employee Relations investigations.

  3. Implement an effective internal investigations training program to develop the knowledge and skills of the HR and ER team members.

    And, in considering the type of training to implement, I’d like to make an important point:  the training needs to be practical, experiential, relevant to your industry, and facilitated by experienced instructors.  At RPC, we have been in business for 18 years and facilitated customized investigations training, as well as regulatory compliance training, Respectful Workplace and Prevention of Discrimination training, as well as numerous leadership development training programs.  We have the flexibility to create an instructional design that is unique to an organization, blending internal processes with our own best practices, and delivering a quality program that drives the desired results and organizational change.

    To learn more about creating consistent internal investigative processes and to learn more about our experiential HR and Employee Relations training programs on conducting investigations, please visit us at https://www.hr-investigations.com/investigations-training/

    Until next time…
    Natalie Ivey, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
    President & CEO
    (800) 517-7129
    HR-investigations.com
    Rpchr.com