Yesterday I posted a blog on accountability and its effect on achieving results. During that blog I emphasized the difference between the traditional, punitive definition and The Oz Principle definition that empowers people to take personal ownership for achieving results.

Today, Joe Paterno, beloved coach at Penn State, lost his battle with lung cancer and passed away. While the official cause of death is listed as lung cancer, anyone who has followed the child molestation charges against assist coach Jerry Sandusky and the subsequent firing of Joe Paterno knows he really died of a broken heart; having been one of the scapegoats caught up in damage control for a national scandal.

So you might be asking yourself what does this have to do with accountability? Well, this is a perfect example of the traditional definition of accountability playing itself out. When the allegations of child molestation arose, the Board of Trustees of Penn State University went into full crisis management mode. Seemingly their only concern was to hold someone “accountable” and no one was immune, including “JoePa”.

While everyone wants to get to the bottom of any damaging situation, it is imperative that organizations, regardless of their size, conduct a thorough investigation to understand the who, what, when, where, and how of the situation. The goals of any investigation should include:

  1. Reveal the facts of the situation so appropriate action can be taken to stop the unwanted behavior
  2. Remain impartial, fair, thorough, objective, and respectful
  3. Keep affected parties informed of status of matters to minimize anxiety and establish confidence in investigations and outcomes

Once you determine that an investigation needs to be conducted, it likely will unfold in several steps.

Step 1: Fact Gathering

  • What are the issues
  • Who to question and reasons for selecting witnesses
  • Order and reasons for interviews
  • Documents and other evidence to review
  • What has been learned, what remains open, and reasons to pursue or not pursue
  • Chronology, by key events (with sources of information identified)

Step 2: Managing Evolving “Human Resources” Issues

  • Determining who has a need to know at various stages
  • Consider interim corrective action until all facts are known
  • Maintain ongoing contact with people with “need to know” status

Step 3: Taking Prompt, Appropriate Action

  • Follow the facts to determine the most appropriate action needed to STOP the behavior
  • Remedy for people adversely affected by misconduct
  • Addressing retaliation
  • Follow up is key

When documenting an investigation and any subsequent disciplinary action, the following information should be documented in the investigation notes and counseling form:

  • Date.
  • Specific Violation.
  • Mention Any Prior Related Discipline.
  • If No Improvement- What Will Happen?
  • Employee Response.
  • Signature of Employee. – If you can get it, if not, just ensure the documentation is retained in the file for future reference.
  • Supervisor’s / Manager’s Signature.

Sooner or later every organization finds itself in a situation requiring an investigation be conducted. When establishing an accountability culture, it’s important that employees have faith in their leadership and believe they will be treated fairly – not just used as a scapegoat in the heat of the moment. If you don’t take time to conduct a thorough, respectful  investigation, letting the facts dictate the outcomes, you’ll find yourself managing a dysfunctional organizational culture that encourages the blame game, victim thinking, procrastination and little team work, resulting in low morale and marginal performance at best.