A Novel Approach to Investigations

January 24, 2022

Max Dubroff, HR Maximizer and Cristine Cave, Esq., Employers Legal Resource Center  return to HR West for the second version of their presentation, A Novel Approach to Investigations on Tuesday, March 12, 2019, 1:50pm – 3:05pm.

This year, they have an all-new case to illustrate their 4-phase investigations process model.  Their series of presentations all use different cases to emphasize specific aspects of their model.

The model is where it all began for them. Every other approach they could find was a checklist–a linear step-by-step that explained what to do, but may be too rigid to adapt to the complexities of real life. Checklists also miss the interrelationships that exist in complex systems, like investigations.

Their investigation process model goes beyond a basic checklist for conducting investigations by providing an integrated process.

© B. Max Dubroff and Christine Cave, “Workplace Internal Investigations: A Novel Approach”, 2016.


The model has four main phases. The following phase doesn’t start until the previous one is completed; but, once a phase starts, it continues through the process. For example, while a good investigator would not conduct interviews prior to developing questions, a great investigator will develop additional questions while interviews are progressing.

The duration of the phases will vary with the complexity of the investigations. For example, the “Understanding” phase will be much shorter when the evidence and responsibility are clear versus when there is little evidence and key facts conflict.

There are times the order of the steps could be modified, but you should carefully consider the impact before making any changes to the process. For example, you will accept evidence provided at any time, including when receiving the complaint.  However, actively looking for and evaluating evidence prior to developing a sound investigative plan will result in a less efficient and effective investigation.

Beyond the model, there are 113 items they describe.  Here is a selection of three of those:

  1. The first is an example of the focus on critical thinking and we see as the core to successful investigations and almost every other challenge–this one is from the “Stay Focused” step in the “Understanding” phase: Truth is the purpose.The purpose of the investigation is to find the truth. One way to set the stage properly is to keep the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in mind. Even better, when an investigator has a hypothesis, he/she should seek to disprove it. Otherwise, many investigators spend their time and effort validating initial assumptions, which could have been false.
  2. The second shows one of the cautions we emphasize to keep you out of trouble–this one is from the “Planning the Investigation” step in the “Planning” phase: No “witch hunts.”There are cases without a clear suspect, including theft and sabotage. Some investigators take the approach of interviewing lots of people, with the hope of finding discrepancies in statements that can help identify culprits.  The first problem with this approach is that it depends upon a confession, which does not always happen. Second—and more important—lining up and interviewing everyone can foster distrust.  Instead of the witch hunt, the better approach is to develop a plan for targeted interviews with those with the greatest access and review of pertinent evidence. If those do not yield any discrepancies to follow up on, monitor the situation for recurrence or other notable change.
  3. The third is one of the several items we address that we have never found addressed in any other book on investigations–this one is from the “Decide to Investigate” step in the “Assessing” phase: Don’t offer bounties.While you want to encourage reporting, there are significant problems with offering rewards to employees for reporting violations. Some investigators believe this is a way to encourage reporting of small incidents (usually with money offered for any reports) to improve awareness of wrongdoing. However, offering bounties can create two unintended consequences: the creation of a culture of mistrust and an increase in false reporting.

All three have the element of critical thinking, help you understand the boundaries, and emphasize points in ways not found elsewhere.

Finally, their method brings the model and items to life. They use the model as the structure to guide the items they describe through an engaging case study.

So, don’t miss HR WEST 2019 and be sure to join Max and Christine on Tuesday, March 12th to learn more.  If you haven’t registered to attend, go to: http://www.hrwest.org/Register  #HRWest19


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