Really, It’s Easy – Read On!
You know that saying your parents always told you when they caught you red handed with your paws in the cookie jar? “I’ve got eyes in the back on my head”. My own sons fell for that one up until they were each about five.
Well, the reality is, as a senior member of management at your organization, you don’t have eyes in the back of your head. So it’s only logical to say that it’s not humanly possible to know ABSOLUTELY everything that goes on in the organization. That’s why there are departments, with leaders, and employees in charge of their own areas, who are knowledge leaders in those areas. You trust them right? After all, you hired them.
So doesn’t it make sense to trust employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing… remember, you don’t have eyes in the back of your head so how would you know if there was wrongdoing a’happening or not?
Getting employees to speak up when they see signs of wrongdoing is hard. Many employees struggle with initially “taking the plunge” (because that’s how it may feel) for a very long time before finally settling on a decision to just go for it. Why is that? Because, as much as we work hard to move away from the term “snitch”, that may very well be what employees feel like. They’ve seen their coffee buddy participate in some sort of wrongdoing, so they struggle with that big question – “do I throw my coffee buddy under the bus, or do I do the right thing and report them?”
It’s a legitimate feeling – that’s what being human is about.
But let’s get something straight here. Snitching and whistleblowing are two completely separate things.
A snitch is your sibling who feels it’s “in their best interest” to tattle on you for taking more than one cookie out of the jar. Really nobody wins in this situation.
A whistleblower is that ethically strong person who feels it’s “in the organization’s best interest” to bring to light a perceived wrong that could end up costing the business piles of money, starting a roller coaster ‘legal’ ride, and having senior level folks end their careers.
Big difference! Here’s how you create a speak up culture.
It’s the first step really and it’s easy. All it takes is acknowledging that you’ve received notice of the incident. That doesn’t mean walking up to face the whistleblower in person and say “hey so-an-so, I just got your complaint and I’m going to look into it”. It means having a program in place where communication can take place between an assigned reviewer and the whistleblower, continuously while the reporter remains anonymous. It means initially acknowledging that the report has been received and the investigation process has started. When acknowledgment happens quickly, the organization is showing an interest in what that whistleblower is feeling and experiencing that made them come forward in the first place.
Again, you don’t have eyes on the back of your head. How would you know that a reported incident wasn’t a potential bomb waiting to go off? Get in there and find out exactly what’s going on. All it takes is that one reported incident that could halt a potential nightmare in it’s tracks. Home Depot was slow to act on risks that were brought to light. It ended up costing them millions of stolen customer data. Use a third-party ethics reporting program to keep anonymous communication with the whistleblower going in order to get more information if and when needed.
If something is ‘broke’, fix it. Isn’t it in an organizations best interest to find the source of a fraud in the works? Or to beef up an internal system to avoid a cyberthreat. An organization should want to ensure that if there’s cracks in the foundation, those cracks need to be fixed to avoid potential fines, violations, legal time, and bad press. By addressing and adjusting possible wrongs when they come to light, not only are you avoiding regulators chasing you down, you’re creating a culture where employees want to excel, and help the organization along its path of business success.
It just makes sense. Implementing a succinct third-party ethics reporting system that allows stakeholders to anonymously and safely report instances of wrongdoing, is a first buffer against fraud, waste, and abuse.