I’ll bet that got your attention! What I mean is, as one of the first steps to understanding how bad things happen, you may want to change your language. I have posted before on the importance of definitions in improving performance, and use of the term “investigation” is way up there on the list of words that I think need to be changed. When we say we are going to “investigate” something, what do you think people hear? What do you think this leads them to believe? How do you think it could impact the information we get?

Most people, at least in the United States, equate ‘investigations’ to something that law ENFORCEMENT does after a crime. The word itself conjures perceptions that are contrary to what most organizations want to do. By a natural transference, interviews during investigations can become interrogations in the mind of the people subject to them, even before they start. At this point, how you approach the interview may not matter nearly as much as how they THINK you are about to approach it, based on your language. Is it reasonable to believe that if the people who you need the best information from think they are being interrogated, it would change how they give you information and the quality of that information?


I have seen many companies struggle with “investigations” and it has been my experience that just using the terminology is a primary driver of the struggles. Many of the challenges faced by the differences between the “root cause” camps, the “learning team” camps and other organizational learning elements could be reduced if we approached proactivity, learning and correcting with language which better describes what we want to achieve.

Instead of ‘investigation,’ consider using the term ANALYSIS. Instead of an interview, have a CONVERSATION. Use words that better describe what you really want to do, and that will better facilitate people giving you useful information, and it may just change your outcomes and actions. Consider telling people, “We need your help to understand how we should analyze this issue to make things better next time.”

Try this simple change of a phrase and see if it doesn’t help.

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