Communicating the outcomes of investigated cases will encourage confidence in the Speak Up process. But how far can and should companies go in discussing internal failures and describing how raising concerns promptly avoided greater damage occurring?
Lawyers invariably counsel against any form of disclosure, but a new Good Practice Guide from the Institute of Business Ethics provides examples of what some companies are doing in this area.
One of the main barriers to a Speak Up culture is the belief that nothing will be done. In stark contrast to when IBE first asked employees who raised concerns whether they were satisfied with the outcome, the majority now say they are not satisfied — 61 percent compared with 30 percent three years previously. Publishing outcomes can begin to reframe this narrative and encourage others to speak up.
If an incident has been resolved which was brought to management’s attention by an employee, a case study (suitably anonymized) could be published. This will reinforce the organization’s support and commitment to taking employee concerns seriously and valuing those that speak up.
An example from IBE’s Good Practice Guide is that of BT, the communications company. “We wanted to balance the carrot and the stick, highlighting both positive and negative consequences,” said Laura Reid, Head of Ethics and Compliance Learning and Culture at BT.
“Because we had always dealt with misconduct discreetly, our people couldn’t see that there was a penalty for misconduct — they didn’t see the action that the organization had taken. We wanted to show our people that our compliance program has teeth,” Reid said.
The company began by talking about the number of disciplinary actions that had been taken and reporting it in the Annual Report. Then they created an article about the data for internal communications. “It was one of our most read articles,” Reid said. “It was evidence of us taking compliance seriously.”
As time went on, BT got better at looking at misconduct categories and the data got richer. “This laid the foundation for us to talk about individual, anonymized cases,” Reid said. The challenge was how to handle them sensitively. “The postcard framework makes them quick and easy to read and being brief it allows us to focus on the behavior and how it relates to our ethics code without going into detail.”
Titled Ethics in action, each postcard outlines two real BT situations and their outcomes — one positive and one negative — where appropriate, what action was taken, what the company has learnt and what The Way We Work (BT’s code) says about the issue. HR and Legal are consulted, but the stripped-back content hasn’t created any problems. They are shared on the intranet and via the company’s newswire. Local leaders are also encouraged to communicate them locally if relevant to their area.
“The postcards help to reassure our people and provide positive reinforcement,” Reid said. “It’s about transparency, risk mitigation and, most importantly, doing the right thing.”
Communication of a Speak Up policy and procedure alone will not foster trust. That will only come when employees can begin to see the positive outcomes of raising concerns.
Katherine Bradshaw is Head of Communications at the Institute of Business Ethics. She’s the the author of five IBE Good Practice Guides, the most recent of these being Encouraging a Speak Up Culture. She developed the IBE’s e-learning tool Understanding Business Ethics, a 30-minute course to sensitize employees to recognize and deal with ethical dilemmas. She can be contacted here.
It maken a lot of sense to show actions are being taken, employees need to take a hoge leap of faith to report an ethics violaties in the first place and it 's both respectful and reassurantie to report on actual follow up.
The lawyers are perhaps legally justified in their position, but they are misguided when it comes to strengthening a corporate culture and where it involves whistleblowers. Whistleblowers believe that they stick their necks out when they raise a concern and they demand two things from management: anti retaliation protection (solid confidentiality; identities are only shared on a need-to-know basis) and knowing that their organisation has actually done something with their info.
Giving feedback to the whistleblower is key to the success of the WHB programme and informing the staff makes them realise that the WHB route is worth pursuing. They also feel proud to be part of an organisation that doesn't just talk about ethics but actively lives up to that value. So unless their are overarching reasons to keep quiet (e.g. the individual was not fired but resigned on his own accord), you must share the outcomes.
I assure you from my own experience that the staff will walk up to you to thank you for doing the right thing (sometimes associated with their concerns about other individuals or actions!).
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