Too often, internal investigators mistakenly conclude that their reports are for the exclusive review of decision-makers. Sometimes, this may be true. However, more often than not, there are two audiences of which an investigator should be mindful – a primary audience and a secondary audience.
The primary audience is the immediate recipient(s) of the report. This can be a manager, a human resources director, the general counsel’s office, the president or chief executive officer, an audit committee, or the board of directors. This audience is responsible for digesting the report and making business decisions based on the report.
The secondary audience includes third parties that may review the report for any number of reasons, but who are most often assigned to analyze and question the report. These third parties can be regulatory bodies, government agencies, an opposing attorney, a court, jurors, or external auditors. The secondary audience is often looking for fault and/or non-compliance.
Both audiences are equally important and neither audience’s role should be ignored by the report’s author.
The primary audience must understand the findings and conclusions in order to make appropriate decisions impacting an organization. The primary audience should understand what took place, when it took place, and how, if at all, the underlying facts might relate to company policies or the law. The primary audience must also understand possible options for remedial steps like training, disciplinary action against someone who violated policy, or termination of an employee.
The secondary audience must understand the same issues as the primary audience. However, the secondary audience must also understand a number of key points important to legal defenses: (1) the company takes allegations of wrongdoing seriously; (2) it employs measures to address wrongdoing; (3) it responds to allegations of wrongdoing with a prompt and thorough investigation of the facts; (4) it remedies any wrongdoing; (5) it prohibits retaliation; and (6) the company directs and encourages employees and management alike to comply with laws, regulations, and internal policies.
Report authors should avoid the trap of thinking an investigative report will only be reviewed by internal decision-makers. While the primary, internal audience is important, the secondary audience is often the one analyzing the report for fault, mistakes, misstatements, or other blemishes that may result in company liability.