Too often, internal investigators mistakenly conclude that their reports are intended for the exclusive review of decision makers. Sometimes that can be true. However, more often than not, there are two audiences an investigator should be aware of – a primary audience and a secondary audience.
The primary audience is the immediate recipient(s) of the report. This may be a manager, a human resources director, the general counsel’s office, the president or CEO, 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 who may review the report for a number of reasons, but are most often responsible for analyzing and questioning the report. These third parties may be regulators, government agencies, opposing counsel, a court, jurors or external auditors. The secondary audience is often looking for fault and/or non-compliance.
Both audiences are equally important and the role of neither should be ignored by the report writer.
The primary audience must understand the findings and conclusions in order to make appropriate decisions that impact an organization. The primary audience should understand what happened, when it happened, and how, if at all, the underlying facts may relate to company policies or the law. The primary audience should also understand possible options for corrective action such as training, disciplinary action against someone who violates the policy, or termination of an employee.
The secondary audience should 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 to comply with laws, regulations and internal policies.
Report authors should avoid the trap of thinking that an investigation report will only be reviewed by internal decision makers. While the primary internal audience is important, the secondary audience is often the one who scans the report for mistakes, errors, inaccuracies, or other flaws that could lead to corporate liability.