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Investigations are a key deliverable for most Human Resource (HR) professionals, and effective interviewing skills form a cornerstone in the production of quality results in investigations. Interviewing others, a component of investigations, particularly in the context of a quasi-legal process such as a workplace investigation, is complex and multifaceted. It is important for the HR professional using interviews as part of the investigation strategy to understand the best methods available to conduct these types of interviews. This article summarizes research and experience on this subject and outlines the best practice methods to use in the context of this area of human resources work.
Investigators are obligated to be ethical and to respect the rights and dignity of others, regardless of their role as a complainant, respondent, or witness. As such, investigators should also act with integrity and make every effort to be truthful, honest and fair. A fair process needs to employ standards and methods that people inherently trust and with which they cooperate freely. An ethical and fair approach to a workplace investigation involves using high quality, scientifically-supported interview methods as part of the investigation.
The Conversation Management (CM) Approach  incorporates a number of high-quality, evidence-based interview methods as well as standard interview principles that serve to acquire the best evidence available. These include helpful psychological principles that help to improve the interpersonal process and enhance accurate reporting, using relatively structured methods such as the PEACE framework, techniques concerning how to work with vulnerable populations, as well as techniques to evaluate the data.
A fundamental aspect of the CM approach is the acknowledgment that these are often difficult conversations undertaken in high-stress situations in which people are likely to present inaccurate information. To counteract these problems, good investigators should first strive to create a positive environment that facilitates the retrieval of accurate memories and information. One way to do that is to use a structured approach such as the PEACE model.
The PEACE model was developed in the 1990s in the United Kingdom after legislation was introduced mandating the audio recording of suspects in criminal investigations. The PEACE model is an acronym for the sequential phases of the model. ‘P’ refers to the necessary ‘Preparation and Planning’ before the interview. The ‘E’ stands for the interview ‘Engage and Explain’ phase which involves the opportunity to understand the person being interviewed and build rapport between interviewer and subject. ‘A’ is the ‘Account’ phase which is pivotal to the interview, during which open questions invite an account of the events from the people or persons being interviewed. If this open-ended phase produces inconsistencies (with either the existing evidence or the person’s actual account) further probing should then occur to resolve these queries. This phase would then be followed by the ‘Closure’ phase, during which a summary of what has been said is shared with the interviewee, allowing the person to either add to or modify it before concluding the interview. The ‘E’ or final phase, ‘Evaluation’, occurs after the interview, and is meant to allow the interviewer and their team to reflect on the effectiveness of the interview as well as determine if further inquiries are necessary.
Within this framework, there are several factors to consider in producing high-quality interviews.
Six Components to Produce Quality Interview
The Interviewees: Just as a piece of delightful music or a dance performance has elements of spontaneity even though the artistic performance is based on rigorous practice, planning and preparation, so too is the work of the skilled investigator. The preparation work is done behind the scenes before, and sometimes during, the interview itself.
Each interview should occur only after considerable planning, which includes an in-depth understanding of the background of the individuals in order to develop an interview strategy (the overall approach to the interview and how it fits with the overall investigation) and an interview plan (the detailed, tactical interview approach taken with an individual).
A review of their personnel file and research about their experience within the organization can be helpful to develop some early hypotheses about the person and their characteristics that can be beneficial in creating an effective interview. While this review can be helpful in guiding the investigator (e.g., the interviewee may be shy so the phrasing and general approach may need to be adjusted accordingly) the investigator needs to be wary of inadvertently creating assumptions or being influenced by others in this regard.
The Context: The workplace itself, including the team functioning, interpersonal relations of the group, and the physical and psychological safety of the workplace can all significantly affect the individuals concerned and may play a role in the investigation. The wily HR investigator will gather independent perspectives about the workplace to begin to understand how the context may play a role in the interview.
The Interviewer: The interview is an interaction, a dance so to speak, between the investigator and the interviewee. An investigator’s role is to fully understand the factors involved including the facts and how individual motivations, thoughts, and emotions drive behaviour in these types of situations. To do that effectively, the investigator must:
- Maintain their role as a mediator of the truth, not that of an adversary,
- Actively minimize personal bias, and
- Not be moved from logic to emotion.
While, of course, high-quality interview methods are key to obtaining good information, the interview itself is an artful activity. The best interviewers are deft and able to adjust their approach to meet the needs of the investigation.
The Relationship: The interview is a purposeful conversation involving a relationship between two people. The investigator must influence the interviewee to tell the truth, but this influence is based on many factors including the interviewer’s credibility, trust, and the rapport built at the beginning of the process.
In the context of workplace misconduct investigations, people need an opportunity to tell their story. People need to be heard and the investigator can build rapport and create an atmosphere of trust by listening and demonstrating understanding. Not only does this help the interviewee, but it improves accurate memory recall.
Several methods, when combined during an interview, can be effective in producing more accurate and detailed information, and serve to maintain the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee as well as reduce the stress on the interviewee. This is often very important in the workplace, where relationships are often maintained over years, as opposed to criminal investigations in which relationships are started and ended with the timeline of the criminal investigation.
The investigative interview should facilitate maximum spontaneous disclosure both initially and in response to further questioning and capture comprehensive details which are then systematically analyzed. The analyzing of the data occurs both during an interview and post-interview.
“But I’m not a police officer, why do I have to learn all about these in-depth methods?”
While the HR professional is not involved in criminal investigations, their investigations can have powerful consequences on those involved, including loss of employment, physical and psychological impairment, and legal disputes. Therefore, it is incumbent upon investigators to use the best methods possible not only to obtain accurate information but to preserve existing workplace relationships as much as possible.
The Conversation: The proper interview method is not an interrogation. An interrogation is a conversation in which the investigator presumes a person’s guilt and then establishes a dialogue that is designed to prove the guilt of the interviewee (think of all the “interrogations” we’ve seen in movies). Interrogation is not an interview, per se, but a method to persuade a person to tell a specific truth.
Investigators must avoid interrogation methods as these can influence the information obtained, particularly for vulnerable individuals who may be affected by their emotional state, developmental abilities, and psychological or mental state. In addition, the way questions are phrased can play an important role during an interview. Even seasoned police officers can fall into the trap of “leading the witness”, thus making their statement inadmissible in court.
Active listening, methodical observing, and attention to detail are all skills critical to success in this area.
Recording the Conversation: In the context of workplace investigations, there is no definitive answer as to whether to record the interview on some sort of audio device. Unlike in the United Kingdom and in many police jurisdictions in North America where audio (or video) recording is mandatory, HR advisors will receive different advice from their legal counsel ranging from never record to always record.
It is important to create a culture of organizational justice; so, when recording interviews, ensure that all interviewees are recorded, not just a select few. Transcripts of each recording can be judiciously produced depending on the need to manage costs.
Our perspective is that accuracy is paramount. Using technology such as digital audio recorders to record the conversation is easy and accurate. In our opinion, it is important to record your conversations with complainants, respondents, and witnesses because of the following five benefits:
- Improves Communication: The interviewer can focus on the interview rather than typing information or taking notes and therefore be able to use observational skills and active listening strategies.
- Produces A Better Record: It preserves the most important evidence – the oral evidence – in its original form. A full and valid representation of the information provided and how the interview was conducted is produced.
- Protects Investigators and Interviewees: Failure to record interviews, or failing to record the entire interview, can increase the scope for abuse, or speculation of abuse and protects investigators against false accusations of abuse, coercion or manipulation, or of failing to follow procedural rules.
- Assists in Analyzing Data: Recordings can help organize the information and thus improve the ability to analyze all the data.
- Evaluation and Learning: Recordings are great tools for evaluation and feedback on interviews, and for training and research. They also help investigators improve their skills.
A common myth is that the interviewee will be more formal and provide less information when being recorded. It is our experience, however, that the skilled interviewer can move past initial concerns quickly and effectively. Once the procedure and benefits are explained, and permission is given by the interviewee, a proper and full interview can follow.
Thinking: The skillful investigator uses critical thinking (the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement without the influence of emotions and opinions) and blends their various approaches to gather evidence and form appropriate judgements.
Critical thinking involves a number of components including analyzing the information, applying standards to the data, discriminating data value, using logical reasoning to analyze the data, and synthesizing the information to reach an answer or conclusion. There are, however, a myriad of risks to this approach (e.g., confirmatory bias) that the investigator must be wary of.
Finally, there are a few specific interviewing techniques, mostly emanating from police interviewing methodology, such as the Reid Technique  and the Cognitive Interview , that may be considered. Each of these techniques has valuable contributions to make but it is likely beyond the normal practice of an HR investigator to dive deeply into these practices as it is normally the purview of those involved in criminal proceedings.
Understanding and practicing the best methods to obtain facts through interviews is an ethical approach all HR professionals conducting investigations should aspire to. These strategies can provide outstanding methodologies to use in workplace investigations particularly when dealing with high-stress situations and vulnerable populations.
Written by Landis Jackson
Do your employees know the behaviours they are expected to display?
Performance management is like a puzzle, employees need to know the individual role that they have been hired to perform, to how this role fits in the team, to handling change when the pieces change.
To offer a positive, engaging culture, requires transparency on the performance of the employee.
When building a strategy for your performance evaluation process, think about the following:
· Clear Metrics
· Proper Training
· Career Development Opportunities
· Continual Coaching and Mentoring
There should be metrics created to serve as a baseline for the outcome of the role. Remember, what gets measured, gets done! Train the managers and the employees on how to give and receive feedback so there is a basic understanding in the organization. Complementary to this should be discussions about career development between managers and employees. Every employee should be challenged to think about the competencies they possess and areas to grow their skills. Specific feedback needs to be focussed on the positive performance and the areas that require further development. Continual coaching and mentoring should align the corporate strategy with the employee’s performance. As engagement increases, you’ll see the passion ignite within your employees. When performance is not met, tough conversations need to be scheduled with the manager identifying what performance is not acceptable, additional training that needs to be completed and next steps. Human resources teams have the ability to influence the organization on performance management. This topic connects with other functions of human resources, such as: talent acquisition, learning and development, succession planning, retention and engagement.
A clearer understanding of the role that an employee holds, the performance expected and the accountabilities of the role will feed into the culture.
Tips on bettering Performance Evaluation Process in your organization
(following the questions from the Webinar on March 27th):
- Feedback provided is more effective when not included in a sandwich, rather share positive feedback in a timely and specific manner. Constructive feedback should be discussed on its own so the employee can focus on the performance that needs to improve, steps to improve and how the performance improvement will be measured.
- Timing of feedback should be moving away from the annual performance review and be more consistent throughout the year. This will provide opportunity for conversation with the manager and employee. These conversations need to be specific with performance measures outlined.
- Situational leadership does affect the way that employees are managed; both from the manager and the employee’s work experience, communication style of each and the role that the employee is expected to perform.
- Feedback to employees should be more than just focussed on the mutually agreed targets, as employees are expected to work as a team, adapt to change, display core competencies and engage in the culture. If feedback is focussed on all of these topics, the employees will appreciate that their job is more than performing tasks.
- Frequency of performance management discussions need to be scheduled more regularly for new employees, for example at the end of their first week, and throughout the probation period. Longer tenured employees should be receiving ongoing feedback on their performance as well as quarterly conversations.
- Training for managers should include a number of different methods, culture of learning to provide opportunities for managers to grow, coaching to practice the intention of difficult conversations on performance management, articles or links to additional resources and mentoring from the human resources team.
- Employees who are not performing need to be managed as soon as lack of performance or behaviour is causing concern. After providing additional training, if there is no improvement, then a decision needs to be made to find a better role in the organization for the employee or have the employee leave the organization.
- Culture alignment should determine the type of performance rating scale for the performance annual review process. There should be a clear understanding of the scale in the training offered to the managers and employees.
- Schedule the compensation discussions separate from the performance discussions. Employees need to understand that there is more to motivation than compensation.
- Strategic discussions between human resources and the leadership team addressing the distribution of performance ratings should align with the corporate vision, mission and business strategy. The human resources team should create additional, meaningful rewards or recognition based on the sector, worth of the job to the organization’s structure, team involvement and individual contribution. We no longer have to treat every employee the same way.
- Contingent employees are an important part of the workforce, and therefore need to receive performance management. They have an impact on your organization brand, so expectations need to be established, met and rewarded. If the performance level is below average, then difficult conversations need to be scheduled.
Written by Susan A. Anthony
Hands up if you have either designed or been required to launch a diversity program. Has diversity improved?
Business needs compelling reasons to be diverse. Red Teaming is as compelling reason as you will currently find when all the arguments about how important it is to have diversity of thought seem to fail. Red Teaming is creeping into business from the military and it doesn’t just benefit from diversity, it utterly and completely needs it, or it will not succeed.
Bryce G. Hoffman’s excellent book, Red Teaming, is a thorough treatise on this technique which is essentially an opportunity for contrary thinking, devil’s advocacy, smashing through biases and every way of seeming to swim against the tide. Red Teams study a proposal or plan to find out how it might fail, or how it could succeed; they find the holes in the logic. They are that voice in the room that, as HR people, we are sometimes asked to discipline for being disruptive, not a team-player, but not anymore, contrarians are exactly what we are looking to hire.
To build a Red Team you need plenty of candidates to choose from and hiring the same type of person over and over again isn’t going to help. HR can do the same or they can role model diversity hiring. We can work with eager managers and design programs with them rather than for them. Their programs. Their hires. Their success.
But, what about those who want to hire clones of themselves? How do you get them to hire blind? That’s it exactly, you work with them on selecting for the characteristics of a red teamer:
As the HR lead, you design questions to explore these capabilities; commission objective tests to establish this is who they are and then, like lab rats almost, you lay them out:
Strong – Intelligence
Weak – Imagination
Then you help the leader select the best candidate from the short-list you have assembled.
The managers will always need to meet the candidates and you can’t block all their biases but if you can get the final candidates to match the criteria then you are objectively determining fit for the team rather than the buddy system.
However, remember that the Red Teamers themselves can easily be clones of each other based on the criteria but the chances of you finding exactly similar matches to the skills list are low. Some will be more intelligent, some more creative, key requirements are an open mind and self-confidence otherwise they will struggle to function within this type of team.
But, if the leaders aren’t ready for what the Red Teamers have to say to them, then no amount of clever selection will help. Leaders have to work to build confidence within the Red Team that they will be heard. Their voices combined with effective leadership will take the company from disrupted to disruptor!
Written by: Shelly Bischoff RN OHNC COHN(C) CHRP CHSC
In a recent CPHR Alberta webinar, "Workplace Impairment Risk Management", we addressed barriers to managing impairment risk in the workplace. A different approach was explored to manage impairment risk in the workplace.
Causation factors of impairment risk which create impairment risk in the workplace were reviewed. The focus on drugs & alcohol, especially the current spotlight on cannabis is creating a high degree of risk for organizations who do not consider all causation factors for impairment.
The traditional perspective of identifying impairment risk in the workplace, needs to be challenged to validate the full spectrum of risk, which extends beyond drugs and alcohol to include fatigue and illness. The poll question asking whether represented organizations address the full spectrum of impairment in their policy framework, verified 79% of participants do not address impairment factors beyond drugs and alcohol. This is consistent with my work with organizations. Organizations are reminded that the identification and control of all hazards in the workplace is required by legislation and that needs to include all forms of impairment. I offered my concern that impairment due to fatigue surpasses the risk from drugs & alcohol to constitute the greatest risk for organizations.
The webinar also explored how organizations equip frontline leaders to address “in the moment” situations where they suspect or know impairment is occurring in the workplace. Leaders need to be engaged in a way that is meaningful to them, with regard to being comfortable intervening in situations of impairment risk in their work environment. Rather than providing content based on the organization’s perception of need, the training model should focus on facilitating conversations with frontline leaders based on their experience and specific needs for support from the organization.
Another topic explored in the webinar was training employees in impairment risk management in the workplace. Traditionally organizations only provide training to senior middle manager and frontline leaders. Unfortunately, this practice excludes a very important stakeholder in the management of impairment risk in the workplace. Organizations share the drug and alcohol policy with employees and may ask for written acknowledgment that they have reviewed it, however this is not adequate to actively engage employees in an acceptable accountability standard related to fitness to work. Employees need to understand how impairment risk is managed in their workplace with a highlight on their role and responsibilities in regard to ensuring their fitness to work. A poll question in the webinar indicated 82% of participants do not provide training to frontline employees in the management of impairment risk in the workplace. Inviting all stakeholders to the conversations is more conducive to sustainable risk management outcomes than the directive approaches currently being utilized in industry.
The webinar did not have enough time to address questions such as addressing non-culpable impairment in the workplace. An example is an employee who is the father of young children working in a safety sensitive position and suffering from severe fatigue related to lack of sleep. This situation definitely constitutes a hazard in the workplace and requires immediate action on behalf of the organization. The approach should be proactive and reinforce reporting the risk of impairment is safe to do in the workplace.
The most appropriate action in this scenario is for the organization to address the impairment risk and meet with the employee and mutually agree on an action plan for him to implement in order to ensure he addresses his impairment risk. This may include the removal of the employee from the safety sensitive position for a period of time so he can implement an action plan and obtain clearance to verify his fitness for work before returning to his own position.
Changing the language, policy framework and the training approach can position an organization to adequately address impairment risk management in the workplace.
Written by: Caroline Power, CEO of Canadian HR Academy
The question is -- will a star performer who is hired from the competition continue to be a star with their new employer?
Acquiring High-Performance Talent is a core objective for hiring managers everywhere. Research is clear on the benefits of high performing workers - they contribute to profitability and they are a key source of competitive advantage.
But activating star performance is not as simple as it may seem. How can leaders increase the odds that stars will continue to perform well when they begin their new job?
Research has borne out that the portability of Talent is complex and that, in fact, Talent may not be as portable as many think. Two key variables for determining success with regard to the porting of Talent are (i) the culture of the new organization, and (ii) the capability-mix of the individual in whom the company has an interest.
As we reflect on our careers many of us can think of top Talent who were hired away from industry-leading organizations only to fail in their new role.
Prior to making recruitment and selection decisions, particularly executive-level ones, leaders need to think strategically about key elements of their company's culture and the associated likelihood of successful outcomes when top external high-performers are brought on board. Similarly, top-performing professionals who are thinking of accepting roles with new employers should take the time to gain information about how work gets done within these workplaces and use it to assess the likelihood of their success when they navigate that change.
Economist Gary Becker identified two types of Human Capital capabilities: general, which have potential value to more than one employer, and company-specific, which are useful to a single employer only.
General Human Capital capabilities raise portability and company-specific ones erode it. Human Capital capabilities ordered from most to least portable are General Management (skills, knowledge and traits required to lead entire organizations, units or divisions), Strategic (specific experience in cost cutting, driving growth, rightsizing, and so on), Industry-Specific (skills and training useful in one industry but not in others), Relationship (interpersonal relationships within a company), and Company-Specific (knowledge of an organization’s routines and procedures).
To assess portability of a candidate for success in a particular role, company leaders are best to gain clarity on the following questions:
- Does the role rely extensively on teamwork?
- To what degree will the candidate require sponsorship or buy-in from colleagues in order to be effective?
- To what degree will the person be engaged in knowledge-sharing?
- To what degree does the role require that the person be reliant complementary functions or departments?
- Is the role primarily engaged in external relationships with customers, suppliers, partners, or others?
- Does much of the value of the role come from unique capabilities, team building, an understanding of workplace culture or other intangible qualities?
The insights gained from answers to the above questions can be used to determine what proportion of the star's capability-mix is generic and what proportion is company-specific.
Candidates with more generic leadership capabilities will be better able to port their Talent across from one organization to another, unlike those with more company-specific capabilities. However, if the company with that new job is very similar, in terms of organizational culture, to the one that the candidate is about to leave, then porting their Talent has a higher likelihood of success.