As an HR Consultant,I get asked this question a lot: “So, Natalie…what are the really GOOD questions to ask in an interview to tell if someone is lying to you??” I always chuckle a bit when I hear this question, as there really aren’t the “good” questions–but rather a good process for handling investigations and interviews.
The first part of the process is in approaching investigations very methodically–not the “fly by the seat of one’s pants” approach, as most often happens, particularly in HR. A typical situation is that a disgruntled employee stomps into HR, wants to “vent” about an issue (usually with his/her boss), and then proceeds to just spill out a bunch of nonsense to a somewhat irritated HR Manager. And, then the HR Manager will grab a notepad, start scribbling notes, and maybe asks a few important questions to find out what the heck is going on…
The problem with this approach is two-fold: 1) the employee is “venting” about an issue and it may be the issue their venting about isn’t even an HR issue! And, 2) the “scribbling” on the notepad process will probably become “the cold case files” come tomorrow morning. Most people who scribble notes don’t do so very legibly… So, after all the “venting” and “scribbling”, the next morning the HR Manager is scratching his/her head and thinking…”So, now what do I do?”
To really do a thorough job of conducting internal investigations, it begins with a solid process. And, to learn that process it requires training. Being able to separate fact from fiction and cut through employee “drama” and nonsense requires investigative skill–and practice. To get the right skills, you can check out my new book coming out on Amazon.com (available in late August 2013) titled: How to Conduct Internal Investigations: A Practical Guide for HR Professionals.
In the meantime, here are five tips for you on how to conduct internal investigations:
1. When an employee stomps into the HR office wanting to “vent”, always ask, “What exactly did your boss say/do that you feel violates our company policy?” “What exactly did your co-worker say that you feel creates a ‘hostile work environment’?”
2. Use a laptop to take notes. Enough said!
3. Create a written statement and have the employee sign it. It should read in first person language, “I Joseph Witness, hereby freely give this statement…” and it’s written as though Joseph wrote it. You actually write the statement, but you write it for Joseph, let him look it over, and then he signs it. Much better process than trying to have an employee write his/her own statement.
4. Begin looking into the situation within 24-48 hours, max, otherwise it may appear that you don’t take complaints seriously.
5. Always conduct witness interviews (especially with the accused) with 2 investigators, or at least 1 investigator along with 1 management witness. Never, ever conduct an interview with an accused without two members of leadership present. Not smart, as employees in “the hot seat” in the interview may try to turn the tables on you, stating that you behaved inappropriately. Don’t let that happen to you…
Until next time…
Natalie Ivey is President & CEO of Results Performance Consulting, Inc., an HR consulting firm based in Boca Raton, FL. www.rpchr.com