Corporate investigations initiated internally can be driven by two key factors: The need for a swift resolution, and the fear of external intervention either by a law enforcement or regulatory authority. The dominance of these two factors can mean that the investigation is conducted with a specific end in mind. That isn’t a problem in itself, but it can create a short-term focus without recognizing the need for long-term solutions.
The focus on the short-term goals can obscure the root problems that created the need for an internal investigation in the first place. As a result, organizations may then find themselves in a perpetual cycle of internal investigations and resolutions.
Too often, the burden falls on investigators to solve the problems. Investigators are foremost finders of facts rather than judges. Investigations should not be conducted in a vacuum but within an ethical ecosystem where senior leaders are at the forefront of any charge for organizational change. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 reveals that people require business leaders to take the lead on change rather than waiting for governments to impose change upon them.
A corporate investigation that is effectively conducted is not a panacea to the deeper systemic change that may be required within an organization. There can be an overreliance on the outcomes of the investigation as the drivers for change. This is a good place to start as it can act as a kickstarter. However, organizations committed to change should go further.
Organizations can focus on long-term solutions in three ways:
- They can start by asking more questions. Ask questions about employees’ perceptions of senior management. Ask questions about the culture of the organization. Ask questions about what accountability and transparency looks like in your organization. Ask your employees about their sense of belonging. Ask the questions that you may not want to hear the answers to. Then listen and take action.
- After an investigation, the findings must be communicated in a clear and considered way to stakeholders. Stakeholders include employees who are aware of the investigation and waiting to see how senior leaders will respond to the issues raised. Care should be taken to present the findings as part of a process rather than the end.
- Organizations should use the investigation as an opportunity to re-examine the relevant strategic objectives and to devise new and innovative solutions to current ethical issues and for deeper transformation, where needed. The Ethics Study 2021 by Principia Advisory is insightful as it recognizes the importance of integrating ethics into decision-making, and 93 percent of leaders surveyed believe that this will be crucial to the future success of their business.
It is time for organizations to stop lurching from one investigation to another, from crisis to crisis. Instead, now is the time to start to do the deep work needed to build resilient, purpose-driven, ethical, and responsible organizations. Corporate investigations have a vital role to play but, in isolation, cannot lead to transformational change.
As we begin to emerge into a post-pandemic world and topics like ESG now mainstream, this is a good time for organizations to reframe and refocus as Ade Adeyemi, CEO of Ecobank, recently said, “Ethics is a key infrastructure that we need to have as an organization to be successful in the long term.”