Out of the Ashes, Rises the Phoenix: Finding the Silver Lining in Workplace Investigations

For many, the phrase “workplace investigation” evokes an immediate stomach clench but there are considerable positives that can emerge once the process has been resolved – because from out of the disruption of the investigation, productive learnings and changes can materialise – and where really, the only way to go is up!

Kieran Plasto, Change2020’s newest Senior Associate, is no stranger to workplace investigations, mediation and conflict resolution – and these issues span all industry sectors. He believes that there are many benefits that are generated when a quality investigative process has reached a conclusion – whether it’s an investigation, mediation, negotiation or other conflict resolution processes – individuals, organisations or teams can come out the other end in a better place.

“Ideally it would be perfect for no organisation to have to go through a potentially negative experience in order to see growth, but every garden grows a weed now and then. And it’s about not being bogged down in the Valley of Death but using it as a change process to get to the promised land.”

That’s what good investigations do. They can be a full stop for something and a new era to begin.”

Kieran also strongly advocates to remove the blaming and accusing, the wrong doer and the aggrieved, the guilty and the innocent concepts in investigations.

“Investigations aren’t just binary, right or wrong, good or bad. There are multiple processes that come into play. I think we need to change the semantics and the narrative – especially when it’s the search for truth and not a witch hunt. I encourage organisations to, where appropriate, call the investigation a process review or system examination”.

I believe that investigations are also useful as discovery tools and can prompt questions like, ‘Do we have an issue/problem here?’  Or ‘What is the actual problem we are trying to solve?’

Another positivity arising from workplace investigations is for individuals within organisations, who demonstrate great courage and tenacity to identify an issue, and/or resolve something through mediation or dispute resolution. This is beneficial as it empowers the individual but also is a demonstration that the organisation is prepared to listen and to act, which ultimately leads to an improved culture.

A great example of shining a light on workplace issues that can result in widespread cultural reform is the recent “Respect@work” Report[1], where the Human Rights Commission reported ‘the need to shift from current reactive complaints-based approach to one which requires positive actions from employers and a focus on prevention.’[2]

Positive outcomes that Kieran has seen occur as a result of investigations and workplace interventions include:

By undertaking such interventions, Kieran agrees that not only would these actions reduce the likelihood of future poor workplace behaviours, but also improve job satisfaction and work ethic. Further, with clear communication around policies and procedures, individuals are empowered to stand up against bullying and promote a more open and positive workplace culture.

No two investigations are alike as they involve different individuals, different teams, and different workplace cultures.  With a background in psychology, criminal investigation as a Detective in the Queensland Police Service, a Harvard trained negotiator, 14 years in Human Resource roles and now as a mediator, conflict resolver and consultant – Kieran can bring a raft of problem solving and conflict resolution options. 

This diverse background enables Kieran to cast a variety of lenses over a problem and identify potential solutions. What may initially commence as a Code of Conduct investigation sometimes may ultimately manifest itself into a team review or a wider cultural review. Kieran concludes:

“I think what’s most important is how the investigation is handled as a process, and then obviously what are the best outcomes for the individuals and/or the organisations that can arise from an investigation. There can be a number of by-products or processes than can result from the investigative process.  Employees may have been stood down and then re-enter the workplace, there can be a breakdown in interpersonal or team relationships, a dissolution of trust, an identification of a leadership issue or an overhaul of systems and processes.  Whatever the outcome, it needs to be led and managed – nothing gets improved by ignoring and small issues can easily become big issues. In my experience, avoidance and hope are unfortunately not great strategies for workplace improvement.”

So, whether it’s an isolated incident requiring investigation, a workplace issue requiring resolution, or you want a proactive assessment or approach to managing potential conflict or risk in the workplace, Kieran and the Change2020 team can discuss how we can help you design your process and assist – please reach out to us on info@change2020.com


[1] https://humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/ahrc_wsh_report_2020.pdf

[2] https://humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/ahrc_wsh_report_2020.pdf