The 10 Key Components Of An Effective H.R. Workplace Investigation

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You’ve just been informed of an employee complaint of workplace harassment by a co-worker, and you’re changing your calendar to make time to conduct an investigation. You let your manager know about the complaint and when you’ll begin the investigation. You quickly review the company policy on harassment and wish again today that you had a template set up to document the discussions you’ll be conducting. You pull out the documentation from the last investigation to use as a guide. You re-promise yourself you’ll do research and create a template and a procedure.

Have you ever experienced a similar situation? It happened to me, in fact, on my first day at a new job!

I’ve held responsibility for Employee Relations and for Compliance in several roles over the years. Most Human Resources professionals are well aware of the obligation companies have to conduct timely fact-finding investigations of alleged conflicts and of complaints about behavior that violates company policy such as harassment, discrimination, retaliation, safety and ethics. This includes both taking immediate steps to stop such behavior and taking corrective actions that are determined as a result of the completed investigation.

The purpose of this article is to help you as an H.R. Professional to create the tools and processes you need to manage any workplace investigation promptly and to make it easy to take actions that are effective, fair and compliant in resolving the issues — as well as preventing and minimizing disruption of the work environment.

Through research, training and experience we have identified what we believe are the 10 key components of an effective workplace investigation. This article is intended to serve as a resource for H.R. professionals to develop your own Investigation Toolkit with processes, procedures, and templates. We recommend that you customize your investigation process and tools to fit your organization, and that you obtain legal review and advice, as laws are different based on locality and change over time.

1. Set the stage.

• Inform your manager, the complainant’s manager and the accused’s manager of the situation.
• Review with each person the investigation process.
• Ask them to keep your conversation confidential, to refrain from taking action or communicating about it other than informing their   managers if appropriate.
• Select discreet meeting locations for the investigation interviews.
• Provide water and tissues in each interview location.

2. Review these ground-rules.

• Be empathetic but objective. Do not take sides or judge.
• Explain that the matter will be kept as confidential as possible, with some details shared with certain management members in order to complete the investigation. Find out who the complainant has told (i.e. co-workers, leads, supervisors, managers). Obtain commitment to maintain confidentiality, to refrain from discussing the issue with co-workers.
• Focus the investigation on what happened, not on making a legal determination. Remember that the purpose of the investigation is to surface facts that will help determine whether or not a company policy has been violated.
• Ask enough good questions to obtain the information you need. Use open-ended questions and don’t ask leading questions. Follow up with clarifying questions to get all of the facts and details of the situation.

o Open-ended: What happened? Or: I understand a situation developed in your work area in your presence at 5:00 p.m. yesterday. What can you tell me about it?
o Leading: I understand Jason behaved inappropriately with Mary in the work area yesterday in your presence at about 5:00 p.m.. Tell me what you know.
o Ask if there are Witnesses who may have observed or overheard the event, and find out who the interviewee has made aware of the issue. For example, has he/she brought this matter to anyone else at work such as a co-worker, supervisor, lead, or manager?
o Ask the interviewee to tell you what he/she believes should happen as a result of bringing the issue to you (management) — What outcome or actions would satisfactorily resolve the matter for him/her?

3. Complete the documentation during your interview meeting.

• Provide time before the interviewee leaves your office, to write his/her Statement, sign and date it. Don’t allow the individual to leave your meeting before doing this.

o Provide a comfortable atmosphere in your presence; for example, while the interviewee writes his/her Statement, you might be working at your computer.
o Note: if the statement is being given to H.R. by telephone, read the notes back to confirm accuracy and note that on the form in the signature section, which would have only H.R.’s signature on record until you’re able to use overnight mail to obtain a signed original.
o To protect confidentiality of these documents it is best not to email them for signature and electronic return.

4. Provide interim protection if appropriate.

• Depending on the situation, you may determine that immediate action should be taken to protect the complainant. For example, separate the complainant and the accused using an interim transfer or investigatory leave, to prevent further exposure to the behavior at issue or from possible retaliation that could occur during the investigation.
• It is important to keep in mind that complaining employees should not be involuntarily transferred or burdened; agree with the complainant on appropriate measures. Obtain legal advice if appropriate prior to making any decisions.

5. After accepting the complainant’s Statement, contact and arrange to meet promptly with the accused.

• It is important to meet with the accused next, as his/her input may generate questions you may want to ask of witnesses.
• In addition, acting promptly helps ensure the accused is/are interviewed before any possible breach of confidentiality can forewarn him/her/them.
• Do not inform the employees of the specific reason for the meeting until you are in your meetings with them. For example, you could let them know you’d like to meet with them to obtain some confidential information that you need.

6. Prepare the Investigation Plan.

• List witnesses identified by the complainant and the accused. These are the only additional interviews needed for the investigation. We recommend you minimize disruption of the workplace by restricting the involvement of other employees to include only those who likely observed and/or overheard the event.
• If new witnesses are identified during the investigation process add them to the interview list.
• Determine whether you or someone else is the appropriate investigator for the particular issue. The appropriate investigator should meet the following criteria:

o Be able to be objective; not be influenced by prior knowledge of anyone involved; ability to be neutral, not choose sides.
o Not have a personal relationship with any of those involved.
o Not be impacted professionally by the outcome.
o Have patience, a calm, neutral demeanor, skills to build a rapport, be perceived as fair, able to obtain sufficient details through effective interviews, and hold a position in the company to maintain confidentiality and provide timely resolution.

• Determine whether you will conduct investigation interviews 1×1 or whether you’ll have a neutral observer present (for example, the employee’s supervisor/manager or another HR professional).

o Decide which approach will enable the Interviewee to be most comfortable being forthright.
o Having a neutral observer present can be helpful in preventing concerns of bias.
o If a violent response is viewed as possible, having a Security professional based discreetly nearby will be essential.
o Identify any additional resources for information and/or evidence such as video surveillance, electronic security/access data; employee personnel files; records of prior Investigations that may be applicable (for example, to review consistency in corrective actions)
o Review and select Templates that will be utilized. You may have Investigation Confidentiality Agreements signed by those interviewed as part of the investigation, Investigation Close-out Memo’s for complainants and accused are typical.
o Investigation Confidentiality agreements, if used for one should be used for all interviewees involved in the investigation. Or, if you decide oral commitments to maintain confidentiality are more appropriate, then each individual interviewed should be asked to make that oral commitment.

7. Interview each person individually, not in pairs or groups.

• Allow time between each interview meeting to type up your notes.
• Remember to obtain written statements from each individual interviewed, and have them signed during your interview meetings.

8. Decide.

• Analyze statements, your notes, and the other factual information available. Identify and conduct any follow-up interviews that need to be conducted to ask any new questions you’ve developed. Determine what you believe happened, evaluate company policies and past practices, discuss your findings and recommendations with your legal counsel and your manager and come to agreement on next steps.
• Generally, an investigation could close out in three ways:

o Finding for the complainant
o No finding (the complaint was not corroborated by others interviewed or other information sources)
o Finding for the accused (the investigation produced evidence that the complaint was unfounded or malicious)
o Meet with approving manager(s) as needed to make the final determination, decide on corrective actions if any, determine management actions to prevent retaliation if applicable, and management’s monitoring plan (with means of documentation) to ensure the issue is fully resolved.
o Develop close-out memos for the complainant and the accused.

9. Close out the investigation.

• Conduct separate Close-Out meetings with the complainant and the accused, including each employee’s Manager if appropriate.

o Provide both the complainant and the accused with a Close-out Memo and a copy of the Policy, if any, relevant to the behavior at issue for the Investigation.
o Do not inform the complainant of the specific corrective action being taken with the accused; inform the complainant that management has taken the issue seriously and has taken effective action. Inform the complainant and the accused of monitoring, follow-up and other actions planned to support effective closure of the matter. For example, if follow-up interviews have been decided upon, they should be informed and the first follow-up meeting should be scheduled.
o Handle questions, thank them and express your confidence that the matter has been permanently resolved. Again remind them of the obligation each has to maintain confidentiality.

10. Follow Up

• Document the closure decisions and the approval obtained, the results of the close-out meetings, and organize all documentation for filing in an appropriate, secure, confidential location (not in the employee personnel files).
• Complete, document and file monitoring plans put in place and the results of those plans.

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Note: These are designed for you to customize to your organization and, given the differences in laws based on locale and the ever-changing legal requirements, we cannot be responsible for compliance; we recommend you review these with legal counsel to ensure your compliance with current legal requirements for your location.

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What Is H.R.’s Strategic Role?

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H.R. is generally a participant with the executive team in establishing the business strategy. But H.R.’s strategic role goes well beyond a team role in deciding the strategy. Execution is where most organizations struggle or fail, and H.R. can significantly impact execution.

There are six Keys to Strategy Execution KSEs) that are essential to optimize performance in any business. While H.R. is not singly responsible for all activities within each KSE, these provide an effectively targeted, strategic context for goal setting across all functions, including Human Resources.

At first glance, it may be tempting to assign H.R. to only one KSE, Human Capital. But we recommend that H.R. build its expertise and involvement over time to eventually impact and support the company’s performance in all six. Here’s why: the alignment of all organization activities, from people to procedures, policies, budgets, work tasks, and more, is critical to the organization’s readiness and capacity to execute on the strategy. H.R. is uniquely positioned and skilled to provide support and initiatives to enable alignment. We’ll talk about each KSE now.

1. Strategic Understanding
How important do you believe it is for each employee, temporary, regular, part-time or full-time, to understand the company’s strategy, how he fits into the big picture, who the competitors are and how your company differentiates itself?

Understanding this, being articulate about it outside work with family and friends, being able to act and perform in ways that maximize his contribution to that differentiation — this intimate knowledge is essential to fully engaging employee commitment and building employee performance.

Even in companies where strategy is discussed often, it is typical that only 13% of employees will achieve this level of understanding. Leaders need to communicate often and in an engaging way, using stories and language easily understood by all workers, so that they can relate to it individually.

What is Strategy? If we ask 10 executives we’ll probably get 10 different answers. Let’s define it in actionable terms here. Your company’s strategy is the unique difference, its differentiation, that makes its customers buy from you rather than going to a competitor.

Each employee should be able to explain who the company’s competitors are, what differentiates your company, and how his role contributes to that differentiation. Once each employee can answer each of these three questions fully and accurately, you’ll have achieved a strategic understanding in your workplace.

H.R.’s goals related to this KSE can become clear through discussing questions such as these:

How can H.R.:
• ensure there are varied, interesting discussions and mention of the strategy?
• partner with leaders to actively involve employees in using the strategy as a guide to prioritizing their work, making job related decisions, finding new ways to contribute to strategic differentiation?
• help to infuse these discussions and activities with enthusiasm and excitement?
• build strategy into all aspects of employment beginning with recruitment?

2. Leadership
There are 3 dimensions of Leadership that significantly impact an organization’s effectiveness in executing its business strategy, including a Leader’s:
• credibility throughout the organization
• ability to prepare and move employees through change
• delivery of communication on a daily basis that effectively focuses the attention of employees on the organization’s strategy, and that is clear, meaningful and actionable

Credibility is required because in order to have certainty about what must be done and how, an employee must have confidence that leaders have set a direction that will provide a good future for the business and that they know what must be done short and long term to achieve it. Often-times, leadership credibility can be strengthened through effective leader communication about the strategy.

Strategy also provides a context for change. Change is usually needed in order to continually align and fine tune the organization’s alignment with that strategy. Leaders who make the connection for people, between changes and the strategy, through two-way communication, continuously build their credibility and employee commitment.

In addition, strategy needs to be adjusted or changed periodically in order to meet changing customer needs, competitors’ advances, technology change and other change that occurs in the business environment. Discussions about these changes are essential to ensure the continued understanding of the workforce.

Delivery of strategic communication on a daily basis that is interesting, varied, and that creates memorable employee experiences will also contribute to leadership credibility and build engagement.

In establishing its strategic goals for this KSE, H.R. might find the following questions useful. How can H.R.:
• help leaders to be consistent, clear and engaging in their messaging about the strategy?
• ensure the purpose, rationale and strategic impact of change are explained to employees in a way that is meaning for each individual?
• partner with leaders to engage in two-way strategy-focused dialogs with employees?

3. Balanced Metrics
Effective development, use and communication about an organization’s metrics can help keep employees focused on delivering the company’s unique differentiation. Metrics can be shaped to work as guides employees can use to prioritize daily tasks and activities, to make countless job-related decisions during the course of each day, to determine ways they can contribute to the unique value the company provides to customers, and find ways to better align policies, systems, practices, projects and other activities.

Using both leading and lagging indicators is to your advantage in measuring performance for individuals, groups and the organization as a whole. Leading indicators can be used to spot problems and obstacles early, in time to minimize or prevent impact on customers or on financial metrics. Lagging indicators measure financial results.

H.R. can partner with leaders to build a scorecard including an effective blend of (a limited number of) leading and lagging measures, and to establish routines for regular updates and problem-solving discussions with employees.

To establish strategic goals supporting this KSE, the following discussion questions may work well. How can H.R. partner with leaders to:
• identify and select a limited number of metrics, using both leading and lagging indicators, to use in monitoring and communication with the workforce?
• leverage existing meetings and systematize high employee involvement in discussing updates and problem solving based on use of metrics?
• help ensure the metrics chosen are ones that employees can understand, relate to, and act on?

4. Activities and Structure
Diagramming your business as a flow of activities is a powerful step toward building competitive advantage. The resulting diagram is your Value Chain, or your customized model of activities that deliver your valuable product or service for the market. This concept was first developed and introduced as a standard business management tool by Michael Porter in his 1985 best-seller, ‘Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance’.

Alignment of your Value Chain enables you to deliver, with excellence, your company’s unique differentiation (aka your Value Proposition). For example, a recent article in Forbes, “Customer Service: What Southwest Knows And You Don’t (Hint: Being Nice Isn’t Enough)”, by Micah Solomon, described how Southwest Airlines aligned its organization around creating an exceptional customer experience for its clients. The story described a customer’s experience when his plane was late, causing him to miss his connecting flight – and when disembarking the plane, Southwest’s gate staff provided a connecting boarding pass to him, and to other affected passengers. Instead of rushing around under stress to find and book new connecting flights, he was able to go to his new departure gate. This simple sounding action could not have been accomplished by one caring gate keeper. To make this happen required that Southwest align its systems and its staff with the strategy.

Organization structure and culture must also be aligned to support the strategy. For example, a functional structure is efficient due to specialization. A product-aligned structure can be more effective in organizations where teamwork is essential to getting work done.

In one organization, the strategy requires a culture of high employee involvement with decision making authority in the hands of front line employees. This works well when the value proposition is one of customer service and satisfaction, as trained employees can make decisions to address customer needs and problems quickly.

In another organization where work processes and methodologies are tightly governed and checked by regulatory agencies, a culture and structure designed to limit variation and centralize decision-making may work best.

H.R. does not need to have personal expertise in all of the functions of the Value Chain, in order to impact alignment and subsequently, strategic performance. Goal-setting for this KSE might be supported by discussing how H.R. can:
• enable discussions in each department, that identify new and existing activities that contribute the company’s unique value/deliver on the value proposition
• partner with leadership to involve employees in identifying needs for management support or changes in structure and culture that will empower employees to initiate action that contributes to the unique differentiation of the company
• facilitate discussions to map the Value Chain

5. Human Capital
Three critical dimensions of Human Capital management include: • Targeted Training • Knowledge Sharing • Talent Management
We believe you’ll agree that these dimensions can have significant impact both short and long term on the organization’s success in executing on the strategy.

Targeted Training refers to training and development activities that are needed in order for employees to perform key work inherent in the strategy. This can include specific job competencies; new technical skills for product and service design, support and troubleshooting, internal business processes and systems; relationship building, problem solving, and project management; leadership skills and more.

Knowledge Sharing is currently recognized as essential for growing and/or changing organizations. A systematic approach that makes it quick and easy for employees to document and share knowledge i.e. what they learned in training, learnings from experience, success, mistakes, and networking — can save time when new people are getting up to speed, can shorten learning curves as people take on new responsibilities or projects, and can provide opportunities for visibility for those who are highly knowledgeable and/or respected as informal leaders.

Talent acquisition, succession planning and other Talent Management activities all enable continuity for the business. A company’s ability to find, attract, hire, develop and retain people whose skills, knowledge and interests align with their jobs and the business strategy, is key in building the value of its intellectual property and human capital. These intangibles impact the company’s ability achieve its strategy and its sustainability into the future.

H.R. is uniquely positioned as a function to make an especially strong impact on the business through this KSE. To continue to build its positive impact on the Human Capital KSE, H.R. might discuss with its team and its peers:
• what can be started, stopped, improved or changed in the Talent Management arena that would better equip the organization for the future, with the right people who have the right skills to deliver the strategy?
• what ”hygiene” work of Talent Management can be automated or outsourced to allow existing staff to focus on strategic activities?
• what Talent Management knowledge and skills need to be developed, hired or brought in through consultants, in order to improve the function’s alignment with the strategy?

6. Market Discipline
Throughout this article, we’ve continued to reinforce that a strong connection is needed between the organization and its strategy. Market Discipline is the term coined in books about strategy, referring to the decision that a business must make as to its differentiation or value proposition. Treacy and Wiersema’s three strategic disciplines are (1) operational excellence, (2) product leadership, and (3) customer intimacy.

It is generally recognized that while a company needs to perform well in all three disciplines, it must choose just one of the three to do with excellence, as their differentiation.
To deliver on one discipline, with the whole organization aligned to the strategy, requires resources and costs money.

Can a company choose 2 or all 3 disciplines for differentiation? Let’s answer this question with some more questions, this time. Would a company be able to align its organization and its people to be both operationally excellent and provide product leadership? How much would operating cost be impacted? How would differing goals impact teamwork effectiveness, and work processes?

Perhaps H.R. could set a goal on this KSE, to open up a good discussion to reach agreement among the leadership team on the Market Discipline tradeoffs and choices.

We are convinced that now is the right time for H.R. to take and leverage its seat at the table to make its strategic impact. As businesses work to re-build and grow following years of economic adversity, it is now H.R.’s skills and expertise relative to critical “intangibles” that can be highly leveraged to make a difference, to build success for the organization both short and long term.

To execute effectively requires Market Discipline, Strategic Understanding, Leadership, Balanced Metrics, Activities and Structure and Human Capital, all strategically aligned and continuously improving. These KSEs are the pillars for successful execution and achievement of the business strategy.

Is your H.R. organization ready? What does it need to do next?
If your H.R. function is one of the many who are evolving to achieve its strategic potential, the following prioritization and action planning tool may help.

Priority Action Graphic from Prana

To use this tool, review each KSE individually. As you read across, you’ll see the second column, LOS Class, refers to the results of completing our Line-of-Sight assessment. If you’re using this chart without having used this assessment tool, skip this column and go instead to Influence. How much influence does your H.R. team have with each KSE’s set of decision makers? Rate your influence with 1 being high, 2 medium, 3 low.
Then evaluate the priority based on the business need for action on each KSE. Rate this 1-4, with 1 being high, 4 meaning the KSE work can wait longer. Then make your decisions on each KSE area to act (go) or not (no go), using the last column on the right. Then, develop your goals and action plans for the “go” items.

Feel free to contact us with questions. We’re here to help. Go ahead, make your strategic impact for 2014. It’s H.R.’s greatest opportunity to add value to the business.

The Truth About Trust, Engagement And Organization Performance

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???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????As managers in today’s organizations,during an economic recovery that is challenging even to the world’s top 1% of businesses, our primary concerns are about building business performance and growing. The fact is, the top 1%, including Fortune 500 companies, are not necessarily the models of successful leadership that we might emulate, since many of them have been recipients of government interventions designed to support them financially: aid totaling $63 billion dollars in government subsidies funded by taxpayers during the past two decades – according to a February 26, 2014 article, “Fortune 500 Companies Receive $63 Billion In Subsidies” by David Siroto on pando.com. This surprising-to-me statistic aside, it is incumbent on us as business leaders to create paths to successful achievement of high performance and growth, despite the challenges we face.Our solutions must be found by looking within our organizations, since business performance and growth are in the hands of our workforce. According to the S&P 500, today’s businesses are primarily valued based on their intangibles, including assets such as intellectual capital, talent, and leadership’s ability to execute the strategy. Engaging our people, developing them, leveraging their skills, knowledge and experience, and retaining them — are the recognized keys to our success. In recent years we’ve learned that Employee Engagement is primary in driving performance. Fortunately, we have lots of knowledge and many experts on engagement to guide us — but, as with other strategic objectives, our challenges lay in the execution much more than in developing the plans.

Analyzing engagement, we can see that Trust is the essential foundation. How do we develop trust? Many would say that we build trust by being honest and by doing what we say we’ll do. But, when you think about it, there’s more to trust than that, isn’t there? I trust people who care about my well-being; who value me and my work and who I can count on to help me to succeed. Do you use similar criteria (and more) in deciding who you’ll trust? On reflection, in the past decade, leaders and managers have been faced with challenges we’ve never before encountered. Leaders have made difficult business decisions with hard trade-offs that impacted the employment of millions of people. People have been downsized, work schedules were reduced with pay reduced accordingly, salaries were frozen, and managers’ focus shifted from people-leadership to tasks, goals, efficiencies, metrics and measures. Training and development budgets were cut, rewards and recognition diminished, and jobs were eliminated by management choices to off-shore them. Looking back, it’s not surprising that the over-riding message received by employees from these collective actions in recent years is actually counter to any message of caring about our people. Trust has been lost. But now, more than ever, leaders and managers need their workforces to improve business performance.

Interestingly, decades ago, multi-year studies by Elton Mayo and Nathaniel Hawthorne that involved changing lighting in a Western Electric plant resulted in a conclusive result that became well known as The Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect is described as increased performance resulting when management shows that they care about their people. This early research discovery fits with today’s knowledge about the impact of Employee Engagement levels on organizational performance. Indeed, managers showing they care about their people and people’s performance are inter-connected.

Today’s leaders are reading articles and books about engagement, strategy and execution regularly. By integrating these ideas and assessing our organizations, we gain insights and solutions can be crafted and tailored to fit our business needs. I am convinced that Employee Engagement needs to become a priority within the business strategy. Then, organizational leadership, systems, policies and practices must be aligned with the strategy. And, like other business strategies, it’s execution that needs executive level attention and support.

Showing employees that leaders and managers care about them is critical to building Trust, which is the foundation for Engagement. Engagement is the driver of business performance improvement and growth.

Following are 5 targeted tactics managers can include in initial action plans to build organization performance and growth, through a strategy of Employee Engagement, starting with Trust.

  • Providing broadened, company-paid, proactive wellness programs that do not require employee disclosure of related personal information. For example, on-site fitness centers or reimbursement for memberships conveniently located for employees; cafeterias serving affordable, healthy foods; child day-care options reducing related stress and expense
  • Designing safety initiatives that support employee well-being. For example, a manufacturing organization might, well in advance of summer, set up a team including employees and managers to locate water and other beverages enabling quick and easy access to all employees, to ensure people are able to remain hydrated during the hot working conditions we know will come in the months ahead; providing safety coaches who walk the floor to provide helpful coaching or reminders to employees in safe lifting, proper use of PPE and other safe practices
  • Making time to follow annual performance planning with regular, frequent, and supportive (individual and team) feedback and discussions
  • Sharing information that enables employees to find meaning and purpose in their work. For example, managers might find various, interesting ways to educate employees about the business strategy, so that each employee understands clearly how he contributes to delivering on the company’s differentiation through the work he does and how he does it on a daily basis; sharing information about competitors, customers and the use of the company’s products and services.
  • Solicitation of employee input on changes that impact their work, prior to change decisions; including employees in monitoring change initiatives to obtain and utilize their feedback throughout implementation.

To drive strategic performance such as this, managers are usually good at setting goals and developing action plans to execute the strategy. And, some organizations use systematic approaches to monitor and measure execution. Participation by senior leaders and/or support from the right consultants can be invaluable in turbulent times such as these, when managers are pulled in many directions due to pressing operational demands for their time.

Is your organization taking action to improve organization performance? Is engagement a priority component of your company’s business strategy? What is working? Please share your ideas, opinions, knowledge and experience.

Re-printed from LinkedIn on June 26,  2014