Workplace investigations and workplace assessments look a lot alike. The process of interviewing and generating a comprehensive report is usually the same for both. The term “assessment” exists to distinguish it from a garden-variety investigation. Investigations answer, “What happened?” Assessments answer, “What is going on?” Assessments are proactive where investigations are reactive. The distinction is primarily one of scope. The scope of an investigation is driven by discrete allegations of the complainant(s). The scope of an assessment is wide-open by comparison, which makes conducting assessments challenging. There is only a problem or suspicions of a problem. Here are five tips to keep in mind:
1. Avoid “scope creep” by actively managing the scope of issues involved throughout the process, and especially at the start. Where initial identification of scope is lacking, interviews resemble assisting employees in responding to the question, “What would you like to complain about in your workplace?”
2. Identify the primary issues for attention. These are often reflected in three to five questions to address with each participant. Scope modifications may develop based on provision of additional concerns that should be supported by facts, rather than speculation.
3. Preserve the expectation that employees use complaint procedures. Engaging an assessment is an exceptional measure that does not displace your EEO policy or like policies that encourage identification of misconduct. It’s a good idea to say so.
4. Manage expectations appropriately. Employee identification of workplace concerns creates a corresponding expectation of employer action. Assessments often necessitate qualifying the organization’s intention to take action regarding ancillary concerns.
5. Prohibit retaliation for good-faith participation. As in investigations where the applicability of legal prohibitions against retaliation are not always clear, the integrity of a workplace assessment warrants the prohibition. If concerns justify engaging an assessment, it follows that no one should be penalized for participating.
Engaging an assessment places a high degree of trust in the investigator to manage scope appropriately. The goal of the final product is to provide insight based on facts and informed perspectives to support improved communications, strategic management, coaching, and corrective action. Where an assessment only resembles an extensively documented employee-opinion survey, it has gone off course.