In the following interview, Pankaj Dahibhate, Counsel, Ethics and Compliance, India and Southern Asia, Law Department, Eaton, shares insights on remote investigations to address the dynamic shift in the new hybrid environment.
Interview by: Aarti Maharaj, Ethisphere
AM: What is the principal goal and expectation for the investigative function? Do you think it expanded within the last year?
PD: As investigators, we must address issues and risks in a timely manner. This helps ensure that fair and equitable outcomes occur.
We must also protect those individuals who raise concerns. And we must do so while maintaining our commitment to upholding our company’s values and ethics, which strengthen the foundation of good governance.
Corporate investigators must understand that they are an important pillar of their company and that they have been entrusted with a big responsibility. They must handle that with respect, empathy, and diligence. They must also take steps to ensure that there are no biases or blind spots.
We have experienced a dynamic shift in our work environment and must therefore evolve. It takes embracing and enhancing our communications skills to maximize results.
Quote: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
AM: Given the pandemic, what were some unique challenges with remote investigations in India—for example, thinking about employees, there are two narratives in India. You have folks who live in remote areas, and others in cities, others who don’t have the luxury of an office at home—what challenges did these situations pose for you?
PD: The pandemic continues to pose unique challenges for all countries. Despite that, I believe employees and their companies have demonstrated amazing resilience, adaptiveness, and care for each other.
From an investigative standpoint, I do not believe the way we respond has changed much. We still follow the same steps, but often remotely. We still acknowledge the concerns raised through our tools or phone, draft an investigation plan, identify the issue or risk, make a list of allegations, identify the stakeholders who need to be contacted, and gather evidence.
Despite home offices, we remained connected and kept up with work, though there can be limitations for those in rural India lacking dedicated workspaces, connectivity, and an uninterrupted work environment.
As investigators, we need to be mindful of these challenges, appreciate the hurdles, and ensure that despite these bottlenecks, there is a continuous pursuit to create the right environment for all stakeholders to have open conversations.
In addition to this, I believe an investigator also needs to conduct a thorough investigation and do their homework so that all relevant evidence is gathered and ambiguity is mitigated prior to any discussions with relevant parties.
AM: Could you share best practices in creating or modifying investigations protocols and systems for a more virtual world that meet legal and policy requirements, ensure quality outcomes, and impart employee confidence in the process?
PD: This is not an exhaustive list, but the following should be considered:
- Investigation plan and documentation: Develop a thorough investigation plan and maintain robust documentation. List allegations to be investigated, evidence to be gathered, and interviews to be conducted.
- Follow a schedule: Plan investigation conversations well in advance. Record the sequence of conversations, date, time, and mode of communication. Provide a platform that ensures confidentiality and an opportunity for the stakeholders to share information in a transparent manner.
- Video calls: Insist upon and encourage conversations via video calls. However, if there are constraints, always back up verbal conversations with minutes of your meeting that are vetted by the respective stakeholders.
- Call recordings: If you intend to record calls, please ensure that the local laws and company policy requirements are met, such as notice, consent, and secure storage.
- Flexibility: Remain flexible and open to interruptions, and reschedule conversations as needed. While it is imperative to achieve a timely closure on matters, it is critical to note that stakeholders may be experiencing multiple challenges.
- Avoid bias: Identify biases for the parties involved and remind yourself to remain objective.
- Maintain confidentiality and privacy: This always needs to be maintained and observed. Information can be shared on a need-to-know basis.
- Build trust: Maintain a continuous connection with the reporter on progress and set the right expectations.
- Show empathy and respect: Be empathetic and respectful during the entire investigative process and with all parties involved.
- Collaborate: Work with leaders to build a robust action plan and obtain their commitment.
- Conduct root cause analysis and look for lessons learned: The US Department of Justice confirmed in its latest guidance, published in June 2020, that “[a] hallmark of a compliance program that is working effectively in practice is the extent to which a company is able to conduct a thoughtful root cause analysis of misconduct and timely and appropriately remediate to address the root causes.” Root cause analysis is a fundamental part of our investigation process. Investigations involve an analysis of why the misconduct at issue occurred, including whether there were gaps in policy, leadership, training, or controls.
- Provide feedback: It is imperative that timely feedback is provided to the reporter to strengthen confidence in the reporting system and provide assurance that matters are handled promptly, discreetly, and professionally.
AM: In a virtual setting, how did you manage the increased risk of an allegation being made publicly or being shared on social media?
PD: Regardless of where we work, the growing dominance of social media platforms poses a risk that information could be shared publicly. It is important that organizations have a standard policy and script which emphasizes confidentiality, privacy, and non-retaliation. It must be read, understood, and complied with by all stakeholders before all discussions.
On matters that may risk an organization’s reputation and go public, relevant stakeholders must be immediately looped in, and an appropriate communication strategy should be devised to address the news in a timely manner.
AM: What other functions became increasingly important to help facilitate a remote investigation and why?
PD: Every situation is unique. Whether it is a remote or in-person investigation, the functions to potentially involve remain the same: legal, human resources, finance, audit, information technology, communications, and corporate security and facilities, given their proximity to critical processes and documents.
Having said that, every employee in the organization should also uphold the sanctity of the ethics process and be willing to report wrongdoing if they have knowledge of it. Also, if by design or accident an individual gets access to confidential information, it is imperative they protect that and inform the relevant stakeholders.
AM: What are confidentiality and privacy issues like in India? And how are they handled?
PD: These topics are extremely critical when it comes to investigations, regardless of where one works. In India, there has been an increased awareness among stakeholders to ensure these topics are taken very seriously. Some best practices include:
- Training all critical stakeholders on a continuous basis and emphasizing the importance of maintaining confidentiality to ensure the details of the reporter, target, or witnesses are kept private
- Testing your reporting lines or speak-up channels to ensure they continue to live up to the organization’s expectations and the spirit of the process
- Seek open feedback via surveys, 1:1s, and team meetings
As we encourage reporters to identify themselves for better coordination, we also need to inform them of our non-retaliation commitment and that there is always an option to remain anonymous.
The investigative framework also needs to be fluid to keep up with the pace of the dynamic environment in which we all operate. It is imperative to communicate that ethics and compliance is a joint responsibility and its success depends upon the commitment and support of all employees, managers, and senior leaders to ensure that ethics and values are integrated into business practices on a consistent basis around the world. Each one of us has an obligation to promptly report any activity that violates the law or our Code of Ethics.
About the Expert:
Pankaj Dahibhate is Counsel, Ethics and Compliance, India and Southern Asia, Law Department, Eaton, providing leadership, strategic oversight, advice, and counsel to APAC Regional Leaders on ethics and compliance, business advisory issues, enterprise risk management, investigations, monitoring, policy governance, training and communications, etc. He has responsibility for comprehensive areas of the ethics and compliance program, including the Code of Ethics, anti-bribery, third party risk management, conflicts of interest, the Supplier Code of Conduct, and the data protection program, including oversight of risk assessment and mitigation activities for the APAC region through collaboration with regional business leaders and functional leaders in audit, law, finance, HR, and other areas. Previously, Pankaj served as Head of Ethics and Compliance at Cummins India Limited and has held roles of increasing responsibility in ethics, compliance, audit, controls, investigations, and risk management with various multinational companies in diverse geographies.