These days, it is very likely that most companies, large and small, will have to carry out an internal investigation at some point. Whether it happens to be a contained issue of fraud, theft or inappropriate behavior or a company-wide investigation — orchestrating and executing a proper internal investigation is delicate work. Many small business owners may find themselves dealing with several types of investigations:
- Enforcement of confidentiality agreements
- Fraud investigation
- Embezzlement investigation
- Sweeps for listening/video devices
- Trade secrets investigation
- Fraudulent claims investigation
Here are four tips on how to handle internal investigations, should the need arise.
1. Focus Your Investigation
It seems like a simple enough concept, but one of the most common mistakes when starting an internal investigation is that the the investigation’s scope doesn’t have enough focus or the investigators are trying to do too much at the start.
Conversely, if prosecutors don’t feel your investigation is thorough enough, your results will be questioned. You can find the right balance by creating a dialogue from the very beginning. Identify your goal early on and work from there. If you keep your goals narrow, you can avoid digressing into other issues that aren’t as pressing.
2. Keep Investigation Costs Low
The cost of a company-wide internal investigation can get out of hand very quickly. If you define the scope of your investigation at the start, you can prevent spending copious amounts of money on irrelevant factors. Make a list of priorities and budget accordingly. Another way to save is to do the job correctly the first time around. Cutting corners and making simple mistakes will cause you to redo work, which wastes time and money.
3. Build Your Legal Team
When dealing with an investigation, a team composed of people who have experience with white-collar and internal investigations, such as attorney’s who specialize in fraud, FCPA, antitrust, corruption, etc. will be invaluable to you, because they’ll lend credibility to your findings.
Seeking outside counsel for large matters is a great way to show that the findings are impartial. Whether you choose to use an internal or external team, or better yet, a combination of both, they should be very vocal on your behalf, ask a lot of questions and be proactive in finding answers.
4. Gather Documents and Interviews
Once your goals are set and your team is assembled, the daunting task of rounding up all the necessary documents comes next. Depending on the scope of the investigation, the amount of information can start to pile up quickly. If you can determine early in the investigation where the relevant documents are and gather them quickly, you can save yourself a lot of time, money and extraneous work.
If you have employee or witness interviews to conduct, you’ll need to schedule them either before or after the document gathering phase. If your investigation has a short time limit, it might be best to do interviews in the beginning so you’ll have all the information ready when you gather your documents.
These are just a few simple steps to take when starting an internal investigation into your company. Whether it be a small-scale investigation into an isolated incident or an international scandal, it’s always good to know the basics and start with a focused approach. Have you ever conducted an internal investigation for your company? What was your experience?
Abigail Clark is a freelance writer. She graduated from The University of South Florida with a bachelors in marketing, minoring in journalism. When she isn’t up to her neck in coupons she is enjoying the outdoors fishing. She loves doing reviews for technology, home products and beauty products.
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