If you stack a pile of papers in front of just about any auditor, he or she will find the proverbial \n\nneedle in the haystack, especially if you're looking for some missing cash. One area in which many \n\nauditors could improve is in their preparation for and execution of interviews with witnesses. \n MORE ON Auditing\n \n Security and Investigations Advice for HR Professionals\n The Planning PhaseFirst, plan the investigation at the outset. Sit down and consider all the issues before commencing \n\nthe investigation. \n\nWitness intimidation. How will you ensure that witnesses are free from intimidation by \n\nwrongdoers trying to interfere with your investigation? \nInvestigative team. Who is going to interview the witnesses? Will you have two \n\ninterviewers? What characteristics should they have? \nTime frame. How long is this investigation going to take? You will need to advise people \n\nas to when to expect an outcome. \nConfirmatory memorandum. If someone brings a complaint to your attention, will you want to \n\nconfirm the elements of their complaint in writing with them? What form should that confirmation take? \n\n\nRelevant documents. Identify and collect all relevant documents. \nSpecial investigative techniques. Beyond auditing techniques and witness interviews, what \n\nother investigative methods would be fruitful? \nInterviewee issues. Based on an initial review of the situation and the documents, who \n\nshould you interview, where and in what order? What are you going to say to the witnesses at the opening \n\nof your interview? At the close? Prepare a set of common questions to ensure the same issues are \n\naddressed with all the interviewees. It is important to be consistent. \nWritten statements. Are written statements appropriate in this matter? If so, you must \n\nbecome familiar with the process and pitfalls of obtaining such statements. \nNote taking. In the course of litigation, the investigation process comes under intense \n\nscrutiny. Your notes, including thoughts about planning the investigation, can become critical evidence. \n\nIn considering the above issues, make notes about why certain approaches were or were not taken so that \n\nthe documentation shows how thoughtful the process was. \nConducting the InterviewsBe prepared to address a variety of issues during the interviews themselves. Failure to address the \n\nfollowing issues can lead to legal liability, low employee morale and a failed investigation. \n\nGeneral description of the situation. This must be carefully scripted and must not reveal \n\ntoo much. What is the purpose of the investigation? What organization policies are implicated? How \n\nserious is this issue? \nNo conclusions reached. Make clear that no rush to judgment has occurred. Do not discuss \n\nyour opinions or conclusions. Do not divulge information unnecessarily. \nAssessing demeanor. Do not throw up your hands just because you confront a "he said, she \n\nsaid" situation. Frequently, you can and should make credibility assessments; this can be done by \n\nevaluating the witness's demeanor. \nQuestioning techniques. Begin by asking open-ended questions that allow the witness to \n\ntalk expansively. Then press for details. Details are often important to corroborate or disprove \n\nallegations. Identify hearsay and rumor. \nConfidentiality issues. To the extent possible, mandate that the interviewers keep the \n\ncontents and facts of the interviews confidential. Advise the interviewees what information you will \n\nshare about the interview and about the ultimate result of the investigation. \nDescribe the interview process. Outline the investigative process in general, but make no \n\npromises as to an outcome. \nPenalties for noncooperation or providing false information. Remind the witnesses that \n\ntheir cooperation and truthfulness is essential. Again, if the interviewees are employees, explain the \n\npotential ramifications of noncooperation or lying. \nProtection from retaliation. All interviewees must understand that the organization will \n\nnot retaliate against them for their participation in the investigation. Instruct all witnesses to \n\ncontact you immediately if anyone takes retaliatory actions. \nIdentify more witnesses and documents. In the course of interviewing witnesses, always \n\npress them to identify additional potential witnesses and potentially relevant documents. \nTricky IssuesBe prepared to handle tricky issues that might pop up in certain situations. \n\nRecording interviews. Should you record the interviews? What if the witness wishes to \n\nrecord the interview? \nAttorneys. What if the witness wants to have his or her attorney present for the interview? \n\nWhat if the witness wishes to have some other third party present? What if it is a union environment? \n\n\nNonemployee interviews. How should you treat the witness differently if he or she is not \n\nan employee? \nRequiring the cooperation of employees. What if the employee refuses to answer questions? \n\nWhat if the uncooperative witness is also the alleged victim? \nPrivacy considerations. What if the events at issue took place outside the workplace? \n\nWhere does the organization's legitimate interest end and the witness's zone of privacy begin? \nThe above issues are some of the more important issues that auditors will face in any significant \n\ninvestigation that involves witness interviews. The auditor can anticipate many of these issues and plan \n\naccordingly. Witness explanations of documents can be every bit as important to an auditor's \n\ninvestigation as the documents themselves, and the successful auditor will master both.John D. Thompson, a nationally recognized expert in the area of corporate security, legal risks and employment law, has served as a consultant on workplace violence, legal issues training, litigation \n\nservices and related security problems to numerous Fortune 500 and smaller companies, as well as \n\nfederal, state and local governments. He currently practices law with Minneapolis-based firm Oberman \n\nThompson & Segal, LLC. Thompson is a content expert faculty member with the Security Executive Council \n\nfounded by CSO magazine, and is the author of a series of books guiding nonsecurity \n\nprofessionals through misconduct investigations. For more information about the Security Executive \n\nCouncil or Thompson's book series, please visit www.csoexecutivecouncil.com\/misconduct.