How Not to Get Your Investigation Taken Seriously: Part 4

August 14th, 2012

In dealing with a need for an investigation of your organization, you have been careful with public comments relating to your motivation and your expectation as to the outcome. You have carefully chosen a good investigator. So far, so good. There is one other pitfall to mention here, and it relates back to the issue of public statements.


#4: Don't over-emphasize the openness and completeness of your investigation.


Do not waste your time or squander any goodwill you might otherwise have by repeatedly stating how open and how effective your investigation will be. Talk is cheap. Recall the words of Proverbs:

  • "Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: But a faithful man who can find?" (Prov. 20:6)
  • "Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; A stranger, and not thine own lips." (Prov. 27:2)


Yes, it is worth publicly stating that you have charged the investigator to follow the evidence where it leads and that nothing is off limits—so long as you have, in fact, given that instruction to the investigator and to everyone in your organization (both parts are important). Similarly, it can be worth the investigator publicly acknowledging that instruction (at such point that the investigator speaks publicly at all).  But say it once, not repeatedly.


Remember that the events that led to the need for the investigation have already created questions. When you harp on your openness, you will tend to create more questions and feed skepticism. This may help your critics. It does not help you. You will be tempted to proclaim your own goodness, but resist the impulses. Minimize your statements, and let the investigator get the job done.


Deeds, not words.


Next: Wrap-up

How Not to Get Your Investigation Taken Seriously: Part 3

August 14th, 2012

So you are grappling with a need for an investigation of your organization's activities or personnel. You are being careful about your public statements, avoiding terms like risk management and implications that you already know key outcomes of the forthcoming investigation. Of course, if there is to be an investigation, you need an investigator. That leads to the next potential pitfall.

#3: Don't choose the wrong investigator.

For starters, you do not need a novice: you want someone who has experience with investigations. Some type of law enforcement background is a plus. You need someone who communicates well with others. At the same time, given the sensitivity of the situation, you need someone who has a reputation for maturity, discretion, and integrity.

When there is public scandal, or a risk of public scandal, and a corresponding need to allay or address public concern, the independence of the investigator becomes especially important. Independence has several aspects.

First, the investigator needs to be independent of the accused. If an investigation of a business executive's behavior were required, one would not want to choose the executive's golf buddy. The appearance of bias would pose a problem. Similarly, when investigating a Christian leader, one would want to avoid choosing a ministry associate or other person who frequently appeared or worked with that leader.

Second, the investigator needs to be independent of the general situation. The investigator generally should not be known for taking sides on the types of issues that are involved. (However, if you already know that you have a problem and you know of a reputable organization that focuses on the other side, you may find it helpful to use that organization to help convince observers that you are truly serious about rooting out the problem). You especially do not want an investigator who is known for defending individuals or organizations finding themselves in similar difficulties.

Third, the investigator needs to be independent of you. This is not the time to choose a person who you would describe as a personal friend of the organization or its interim leadership. You do not yet know how far the problems go, and they may need to be investigated, too.

As part of that, information should not flow through the hands of your organization to get into the hands of the investigator. Persons with potentially relevant information should have clearly presented means to provide information directly to the investigators without going through your organization. (Note that, where it appears that crimes may have been committed, the investigator needs to take pains not to get in the way of information flowing to proper government authorities or to appear to be getting in the way.) The need for a direct channel for the flow of information is especially significant when there is prior history or other reasons to question the organization's handling of issues of this type. It need not be the case that any such accusations or doubts are actually true. Remember that the investigation and resulting action and outcome needs not only to be right but also to look right.

Further, the investigator must be sensitive to the issue of roles. The division of responsibility between the investigator and the organization and its interim leadership must be maintained. The investigator should not be presented as an interim leader or staff member or in some other way that could make the investigator look part of the organization and thus risk his independence.

Finally, the investigator needs to communicate through word and tone an appropriate sense of the seriousness about the situation. While humor is often a way to break the ice or ease tension, it generally does not fit in situations of this gravity. Moreover, humor can easily suggest that the person does not really grasp the gravity of the situation.

Independence and seriousness are critical. Do not fall into the pit.

How Not to Get Your Investigation Taken Seriously: Part 2

August 9th, 2012

Suppose that you find yourself in the difficult position of needing an investigation of your organization's activities or personnel. Suppose further that you want that investigation to be taken seriously and be effective. In that case you need to avoid some pitfalls. First, do not talk in terms of "risk management" or otherwise imply that a primary concern is your own liability.


Second, do not begin by indicating that you already know the answer.


In seminary I learned that three of the most important words in theology are "I don't know" and that we should not be afraid to use them. That advice is good here, too. A corresponding answer in this context might be, "We understand the desire for answers; we want answers, too. But at this time, we do not know. That is the purpose of the investigation, and we need to let that investigation run its course." Serious-minded listeners will understand.


Yet in these challenging situations, many persons are clamoring for answers. There is an understandable desire to reach the end of the process, to be done, to answer the questions, and to be able to move onward. The intervening wait is uncomfortable, and the longer the wait, the more uncomfortable it can get. Together, these factors feed the impulse to begin giving answers prematurely. Avoid it!


Specifically, avoid the temptation to talk about conclusions at the same time that you are introducing the investigation. If you are dealing with matters that are potentially criminal, do not make statements such as that you expect no charges to be filed in the matter. You especially do not want to make such statements at the same time that the state and federal authorities are stating that their investigations are continuing.


If you do not yet know the facts, then how can you make that judgment? Recall the words of Proverbs, "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, It is folly and shame unto him" (Prov. 18:13). On the other hand, if you already know the facts, then what is the purpose of the investigation? It sounds superfluous. One tends to wonder, "Are their minds made up? Is the investigation merely a charade?"


So avoid the pitfall. You cannot have it both ways.


"I don't know."


Up next: Choosing an investigator.

How Not to Get Your Investigation Taken Seriously

August 7th, 2012

Regrettably, yet another church has found itself enmeshed in scandal through the gross moral failure of its pastor. Not surprisingly, many questions are being asked: Exactly what happened? How far did this go? How long has it been continuing? Are there others? Who else knew? For how long have they known?


While some interest grows out of voyeuristic curiosity as to the sordid details, there are legitimate questions about the scope of the problem. You cannot be sure that you have addressed the entire problem if you do not know what and how big it is. Consequently, in addition to various state and federal investigations into possible crimes, the church has initiated its own investigation.


When circumstances impel an investigation, then to accomplish its purpose, one must do the investigation right. Where issues of testimony and reputation are involved, it must also look right. Persons must be able to look at the investigation and take it seriously for them to have any confidence in its outcome. While your best course is to avoid the need for such an investigation, if you find yourself in that difficult position and want your investigation to be taken seriously, there are some things you need to avoid.


First, do not imply that a primary concern is about your liability. Believers will be concerned about the effect on God's name. As Nathan told David, "by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme" (2 Sam. 12:14). Believers and unbelievers alike recognize the human cost to victims of such sinful, abusive behavior. The violation of the innocence of children is unconscionable. It is an evil that we dare not underestimate—remember Jesus talking about millstones (Matt. 18:16, for example). They will be scarred for the rest of their lives, and this will in turn affect their future families. Such behavior also assaults families now: husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings. Further, it disrupts church families, individuals whose faith is assaulted by this evil.


In announcing and running your investigation, do not create any grounds for thinking that you are not focused on the gravity of the sin and of these consequences. Do not create any grounds for observers perceiving that your key concerns are who else might fall (from power) or how much might this cost. Do not make it look like the effect on you is more significant in your thinking.


And by all means, do not refer to the investigation as an exercise in risk management!


Not that there is anything wrong with risk management. Risk managers grapple with the possibility, the "risk," of the occurrence of certain events and the potential for resulting loss: natural disasters (like tsunamis damaging power plants); accidents, even negligent ones; and professional errors resulting in malpractice claims. My first significant encounter with risk management was with free continuing legal education funded by professional malpractice insurance carriers who concluded that the cost of an ounce of prevention (teaching lawyers to avoid behavior that often leads to malpractice claims) was much less than the cost of a pound of cure (defending malpractice claims after the lawyers has been sued).


But the term does not fit well here. The investigations here are not really dealing with the same sort of events. They involve willful misconduct. Moreover, in instances like these, there is no longer a mere "risk" of such an occurrence. Any preventative measures have proved insufficient. The "risk" has become reality. The conduct has occurred. The issue is real. Now.


Further, referring to this as "risk management" is simply out of place. It is not a typical pastor's word. How many church leaders talk in those terms? Thus, it sounds artificial. It leads one to wonder whose arrival is fostering this terminology and what other effects the involvement might have.


Finally, referring to this as risk management suggests that the focus is on the consequences and, more specifically, on the consequences for you. That should be at the bottom of your priority list.


In sum, if you want your investigation to be taken seriously, you must avoid this pitfall. There are several other pitfalls to avoid. I will turn to those next.

In Sin and Guilt

May 1st, 2011

In sin and guilt, I stood condemned
Before the throne. No hope remained,
For Justice came, unsheathed his sword,
Then to inflict my sin’s reward.
“Give him to me, without delay,
He now must die, his debt to pay.”

But Jesus stood, God’s Son divine,
And then proclaimed, “No, he is mine!
His death, I died; his debt, I paid.
I have a full atonement made.
What you demand, Has ‘ere been done.
And thus his freedom has been won.”

Then Justice sat, well satisfied.
His sword now sheathed, for one had died,
So God is just, yet can forgive,
Make me His son, and let me live.
Thus justified, bold now I stand
Not on my own, but by His hand.

—Brent Marshall, 2010