In a recent LPM column, we discussed the importance of understanding what success looks like in an investigative interview. Although obtaining a confession from a guilty subject may be one of the possible successful conclusions of an interview, it goes far beyond hearing somebody say, “I did it.” Discussing the elements of the act, substantiating details of the confession, and showing intent are all part of a reliable confession.
As in any interview, strategy and preparation are paramount in ensuring for a productive conversation without any presumptions being made. Although any investigation may have its potential for excuses, there are few types of cases that seem to consistently encounter the same issues. Policy violations and employee relations issues are among the most common sources of these explanations from the subject.
Each of these conversations must be strategized to allow the interviewer to logically flow through the conversation without creating resistance from the subject. In a dialogue format, the interviewer will create a structured approach allowing the subject to freely share information. First, starting with the initiation of rapport, the interviewer should introduce their general role at the organization. After this, a series of structured questions, falling into a logical flow of topics should direct the subject to the primary issue. These topics and the sequence of questioning will differentiate with each case as it relates to the subject’s level of knowledge, their potential explanations, and the available evidence.
“I wasn’t trained.”
One of the most common obstacles when identifying intent in a loss prevention interview is determining whether the employee intentionally defrauded the company or, rather, they weren’t trained appropriately. The most common violation may be related to the abuse of an employee discount or a loyalty rewards program. Evidence may suggest that the employee is giving their discount away to friends who are not entitled to such a benefit, but it is yet to be determined whether this was done with intent to defraud.
One of the difficulties with this interview is the subject may acknowledge to the use of their discount, but simultaneously may claim that they were unaware this was inappropriate behavior. At this point, the interviewer is now in a difficult position of either believing the subject (who has an incentive to lie) or having to prove to the subject that they were in fact aware of their actions.
Logically, we would think to just ask the subject if they are aware of the discount policy before making any accusations. The problem with this approach is that the guilty party, aware of their wrongdoing, has an incentive to lie to the interviewer if confronted with this question at the beginning of the conversation. Instead, using a concept such as the Participatory Method, the interviewer should strategize the conversation in a way that provides the least amount of resistance, allowing the subject to tell the truth about their level of training before introducing the employee discount.
After the development of rapport, the interviewer may begin the discussion by having a dialogue about the general job duties of the employee. Within this section, the subject may discuss how they are alerted to their schedule, the process of clocking in and out, and how they are assigned tasks throughout the day. The interviewer may then transition into specific tasks on the job, including their role in performing transactions on the register. During this topic, the interviewer may ask about the refund process, how change is obtained, and how to void a sale. At this point in the interview, there should be minimal resistance from the subject as the topics are of no concern. This allows the subject to freely discuss their level of knowledge and provides the interviewer some insight into the subject’s level of training awareness.
Now, when the interviewer starts to ask more specific questions about the employee discount, it does not appear out of context. A well-trained employee, who has been forthcoming during the entire conversation, is now more likely to be truthful about their knowledge of the discount policy. Prior to ever making an accusation, an interviewer is now more well informed as to the level of training and awareness this associate has.
“Somebody else must have done that.”
An employee is suspected to be sending emails with discriminatory language and visiting inappropriate websites on their company device. The investigation yields minimal evidence, other than a report that shows this activity on the employee’s device. In this case, we have another example of potential legitimate explanations from the employee where the interviewer may be tasked with assessing the credibility of their excuses. Instead of relying on this evaluation, the interview should be strategized to properly vet each potential explanation as legitimate.
As in our earlier example, if the interviewer first begins the conversation by confronting their employee on the primary issue, they will see immediate resistance and create an incentive for dishonesty. Instead, in a rapport-based approach, the interview should logically flow the conversation to obtain as much reliable information as possible. Discussing the general job duties of the employee and then transitioning into a conversation on company-provided resources creates this pathway. The interviewer can then ask questions gauging the employee’s knowledge on company resources such as cell phones, vehicles, and credit cards allowing for an open and truthful discussion.
Once appropriate, the interviewer can then transition into a dialogue on company-issued laptops and the policies surrounding their use and access. If the employee acknowledges that they have never given out their password, and they always maintain control of their device, they have begun to eliminate the alternative explanations for the evidence that exists.
Strategize and Prepare
These types of explanations or excuses from a subject illustrate the importance of preparation as well as open-mindedness from the investigator. It is possible that the interviewee is lying about their level of involvement or knowledge of wrongdoing, but it is also likely that they are telling the truth. In these cases, instead of termination or prosecution, we should be looking at options of retraining and operational improvements. The purpose of the interview is to obtain reliable information, and this investigative approach does just that.
A thorough investigation should include preparation time for the interview process. Within these strategy sessions, interviewers should identify all potential reasons for how the evidence could be explained away. It is with these excuses that a more comprehensive investigation can be done, and a strategic interview process be structured.