We always begin a meeting with a new client with the question, “What are your concerns?” It’s a very broad question, designed to narrow down the client’s biggest apprehensions. It’s our jumping off point, the place where we go to start determining what information we need to do a thorough risk assessment. This is something we see commonly, in that a particular business or agency often isn’t trying to prove someone did something wrong specifically. They just want to assess their overall risk.

The problem is, you can’t prove a negative. For example, you can’t prove that you’ve never stolen anything. Think of the kind of proof that would be required and the scope of that proof. Would you have to call every person you’ve ever known and have them testify on your behalf? Get surveillance records of every store you’ve ever been in? That’s unwieldy and impossible. That’s why Remote Risk Assessment (RRA) works. It allows you to take a broad concern and narrow it down to a set of questions. In the end, these questions can help you assess for risk and determine if deeper investigation is warranted.

Creating Questions Without Shades of Gray

Do you consider yourself an ethical person? That might seem like a black-and-white question, but it’s a pretty gray one. Very rarely is someone going to admit to being unethical. It doesn’t matter what they did in the past. What matters is whether they can justify it to align with their own personal ethics.

Consider the following quote:

“I take full responsibility for what happened at Enron. But saying that, I know in my mind that I did nothing criminal.”

This statement was made by Kenneth Lay, the former CEO of Enron, who was found guilty on ten counts of securities fraud and was at the helm of a company responsible for one of the biggest financial scandals in US history. Until his death, Lay maintained that Enron collapsed not as a result of fraud or unethical actions, but instead because of poor financial decisions.

Considering that, it’s possible that someone like Kenneth Lay could answer the question “Do you consider yourself to be an ethical person?” with a “yes,” and using just about any truth detection technology, the result would be considered honest. This is where the importance of question phrasing comes in. Instead of asking questions that focus on the subject’s thoughts or feelings, questions need to be asked based on the subject’s actions.

Turning Concerns into Questions

It’s easy to create a gray question without meaning to. That’s why so much of what we do is in the preparation. When we meet with a new client, we start with a very broad category and break it down until we can create questions with a definite answer. Here, we can show this as a step-by-step process:

  1. We establish the overall concern. An overall concern is one that’s impacting the business on a grand scale and needs to be routed out. In retail, it might be product theft, while in technology, it might be intellectual theft. In governmental investigations, the biggest concern might be corruption.
  2. We ask what actions create corruption. We break down that overall concern into the actions that indicate it. We can’t just ask someone “are you corrupt?” Instead, we ask about the types of actions that can make someone corrupt. Taking bribes is a good indicator of possible corruption.
  3. We create the base question. Even though we’ve broken down the corruption question to a basic closed-ended question, i.e. “have you ever taken a bribe?”—that’s still not enough. To get the most out of this question, we have to narrow it further. Otherwise, someone might be able to justify something they did as not taking a bribe. They might say to themselves, “Well, it wasn’t a bribe. It was a facilitation payment.”
  4. We get specific. A bribe can mean just about anything, which is why we break it down to something more. So instead of asking, “Have you ever taken a bribe?” we might ask, “Have you ever accepted money from a representative of a company to give them preferential treatment in relation to a government contract?”
  5. We rephrase. Often, asking once isn’t enough. Instead, we find a way to rephrase the same question. So with the above, we might also ask “Have you ever accepted payment in exchange for giving a third party insider information to gain a government contract?”

Breaking down the question and asking it several different ways is the best way to avoid gray areas and get to the root of the problem. This allows our RRA technology to gain a better understanding of the person being interviewed and helps us eliminate risk based on a company’s concern.

Clearspeed crafts a unique set of questions based on our clients’ concerns for every case. This ensures that our assessment measures actions rather than perceptions. For more information on using this technology, contact us.

Image Source | StockSnap user Marc-Olivier Jodoin