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Manti Te’o, Notre Dame and the Art of the Crappy HR Investigation...

When bad stuff happens, who's left to sort out fact from fiction at your company?

More often than not, it's the HR Manager/HR Director that leads the client group and is Manti-teo-3 responsible for the employee relations scene as part of that responsibility.  About 50% of the biggest HR leadership job (5K FTE count) I ever had was pure play employee relations, and I have to say there are times when I miss going into a pure, high stakes, "he said, she said" situation, preparing with data and interviewing the people involved.

Conducting a fair, yet aggressive, investigation of bad stuff in your company is a hallmark of a great HR Manager and up (director, VP) generalist.  People who can aggressively interview and figure out who's lying are worth their weight in gold.

Of course, there's the wrong way to conduct an internal investigation of bad stuff.  The Manti Te’o/Lennay Kekua/Notre Dame affair is a great example.  Notre Dame decided not to interview anyone or get aggressive in any way before they pronounced Te'o a victim.  More from the Big Lead:

"The South Bend Tribune published a thorough accounting of Notre Dame’s reaction to the Manti Te’o/Lennay Kekua affair. This accounting revealed Notre Dame’s “investigation” to be cursory, almost designed not to find anything unsavory. It confirmed what Te’o intimated in the ESPN interview. Investigators, hired a week after speaking to Te’o, conducted no interviews. Investigating something that happened on the Internet, they did not examine e-mails, cell phone records or any other form of electronic correspondence.

The investigation ordered by Notre Dame was limited to the electronic search, Brown said. Investigators did not interview Te’o or his family, nor did anyone attempt to contact Ronaiah Tuiasosopo or any of his relatives.

In response to questions, university officials said the investigators did not examine cell phone records, e-mails or other electronic communication to determine the length or extent of Te’o’s communication over the past few years with the person claiming to be Lennay Kekua, nor did the university ask Te’o to take a lie detector test."

What's missing from Notre Dame's action plan in this investigation?  What can you learn for your company?  When bad stuff happens, you investigation plan is basically as follows:

1.  Find as much data as possible about the situation - emails, phone records, etc - any thing in print or digital that help you get your head around what you're dealing with.

2.  Create a list of people you need to talk to/interview.  Order them in a way where early interviews are really about collecting data to add to #1.  As you get later in your interview schedule, you're talking to people closer to the issue in question.

3.  When you start interviewing the primaries in the situation (those who know what the truth is, you just have to get it out of them) you do the following:

a. Use the data you have to gradually box them in to agreement on the general situation in question.

b. Use critical data points to test if their telling you the truth - you generally need data from #1 to do this.

c. If you catch them in a lie related to 3b, use that fact to leverage them to come clean and give you more than they were going to.

d. Rinse.  Repeat. Don't be scared to stay in an interview for a couple of hours.

Welcome to the world of the effective HR investigation.  If it sounds like nasty business, it is.  Only the best HR Managers and Directors are really good at what I've outlined above.

But at the end of the day, you want an HR Manager/Director who knows how to leverage investigations and the people in them to get to the truth.  You want them on that wall.  And yes, you need them on that wall.  Who else is going to do it?  You?

If Manit Te'o was an employee, Notre Dame gets an F for how they handled it.  And a bunch of internal onlookers feel less certain about the Notre Dame brand as a result.


ted gilchrist

i think you mean "worth their WEIGHT in gold"


Ted -

proofing your own copy is a trail of tears.

Thanks for the heads up!


Jeff Dahlberg

Excellent points!

Jeff D

Steve Lovig

Kris - as usual, good stuff! I wrapped up an investigation of “personnel issues” just last week. The most gratifying part of the process was the ability to get buy-in from the complaining employee that the manager’s behavior had indeed changed, and was no longer an issue for her. Additionally, she was excited about the future of her employment with the company, AND she agreed to drop the EEOC complaint! It was a genuine win-win! SL

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