Today, harassment and abuse claims have reached a fever pitch and businesses, media, entertainment and even governments are scrambling to protect themselves and address claims. Scrambling so much, in fact, that, in some cases, they are firing the accused with little evidence as to actual wrong doing. Such knee jerk reactions are reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s where people accused of witchcraft were subjected to outlandish experiments such as the “swimming test” in leaders’ quest to convict accused necromancers. Leaders don’t react, they LEAD.

Although immediate action is required when allegations of harassment or discrimination surface, leaders must LEAD during these turbulent times. Leaders must remain calm and be both methodical and purposeful in conducting an objective, unbiased investigation to uncover objective evidence and facts and take appropriate action based on those facts.

Nine hallmarks of a fair, equitable and credible investigation:

  1. Planning and organization – selection of the investigator, identifying factual and legal issues and identifying witnesses to be interviewed.
  2. Commitment by HR and Management – its critical leaders devote the time and resources necessary to complete a thorough investigation even if it disrupts business.
  3. Promptness – leaders are prompt, and launch an investigation immediately, as in NOW.
  4. Thoroughness – all parties to the investigation should identify witnesses and documents for consideration during the investigation. Thoroughness includes leaving no stone unturned.
  5. Fairness – as a leader, your goal is to uncover the facts and take appropriate action to eradicate inappropriate behavior in the workplace and protect 4 distinct individuals or groups: 1) the complainant, 2) the accused, 3) the other employees in the organization and 4) the organization. The investigation should seek be fair and ensure that no defamatory comments are made about any participants in the investigation.
  6. Accuracy and Precision – rumor and innuendo are rampant during investigations and if you go into an investigation as a hammer, everything you uncover will resemble a nail. A leader’s role is to uncover facts and interpret those facts in light of the allegations made. When information is unclear, you continue asking questions and digging for more information until it becomes clear.
  7. Minimize intrusiveness – Leaders must manage confidentiality.
  8. Proper documentation – Leaders document EVERYTHING.
  9. Get HELP – Leaders can’t and aren’t expected to know everything and investigations are too important to guess, so don’t be afraid to Get HELP from respected colleagues to ensure you’re following the two rules of leadership.
    1. Treat others the way you want to be treated
    2. Do the RIGHT thing

In strong, positive organizational cultures (OCs), inappropriate behavior and abuse are rare because the values and philosophies of the organization demand respect and dignity and the actions of leaders reinforce those values by simply not tolerating abusive behavior. Remember, it doesn’t matter what you say your values are, the true measure of your values is identified by the attributes/behaviors you hire and fire for and what you reward. If those are to be congruent, leaders must LEAD.