Knowing how to get a person to blow the whistle is the key to obtaining critical information through your organisational whistleblowing solution. In WhistleB's new handbook The ABC guide for establishing a whistleblowing solution that increases customer and employee satisfaction, we discuss three whistleblowing pre-requisites that help you obtain that hard-to-reach information about misconduct.
This article is the fifth in a series of summer blog articles publishing excerpts from the new handbook. The handbook covers resources, legal aspects, culture, data security in whistleblowing and provides a range of practical tips such as how to get a person to blow the whistle.
In a nutshell, embrace the whistleblower as a hero and help them understand that reporting is important, safe and simple.
- Acknowledge your heroes
We have seen a significant change in attitudes towards whistleblowers. From something suspicious and negative to the heroes of our time. Heroes that can make the difference between your organisation being in or out of business. These heroes are responsible individuals that want to alert you to suspected wrongdoings that can harm your business operations. Embrace these loyal employees, diligent suppliers, or whatever they may be, and create trust in your whistleblowing system. To get a person to blow the whistle, show them that you too are serious about doing good business.
The right tone at the top is essential for trust and driving engagement. Senior management and the board need to advocate whistleblowing, underline its value for the organisation, and make it clear that everybody has a responsibility, and the possibility, to raise concerns. It is then your responsibility to reply to and manage the reports received. Perhaps you do not always agree that a change is needed, but if a report is sent to you in good faith it should be managed well, respectfully and professionally.
A whistleblowing solution is just one tool in the corporate responsibility toolkit. Most people want to work in a workplace where they know they are safe, and where ethics are taken seriously. So lay the foundations by working with and communicating the company's philosophy on how to do business, expressed in your core values and code of conduct. Essentially, this is the platform that employees can stand firmly upon when they face ethical dilemmas, when the boundaries between right and wrong are not obvious. Support your employees with clear guidelines that reflect the situations that you know they risk coming up against.
- No retaliation
Fear of retaliation is common and sometimes justified. Even though there is a general paradigm shift towards greater transparency and openness that is making attitudes to whistleblowers more positive, people are still afraid to blow the whistle. A European Commission survey found that only one out of four witnesses to corruption reported it. 75% remained silent. This fear is one of the main reasons for people preferring to remain anonymous, as detailed in a previous blog.
People need to trust that they will be protected against any form of retaliation and negative consequences. Whistleblowing is stressful and people will only speak up if they trust the outcome of doing so. Fear of retaliation and inaccessibility to the right people who can do something about misconduct are major factors that keep people silent within companies and governmental authorities. How then can leaders reduce this fear and build trust in the whistleblowing system?
In their communication, leaders should inform potential whistleblowers that they are not going to be penalised for reporting an incident in good faith and that they can remain completely anonymous throughout the entire follow-up and any investigation. To emphasise whistleblower safety, leaders should describe the strict data security and other technical and privacy measures embedded within the system. Whistleblowers also need to feel confident that their concern will be taken seriously and be managed by professionals. So being transparent about the case management process and the whistleblowing team is also important.
The most efficient way to ensure there is no retaliation, and thus get a person to blow the whistle, is to offer anonymous reporting channels.
- Keep reporting simple and digital
Remove as much of the stress of whistleblowing as possible by de-dramatizing the process through clear communication. Help employees - and other stakeholders - understand what constitutes a whistleblowing case, and what does not, through easily accessible information.
Ensuring the simplest possible reporting process is essential, preferably in the whistleblower's own language. Think about removing any thresholds to reporting, which includes letting whistleblowers report whenever, wherever and from whichever device they feel most comfortable. Guide the whistleblower through the process so that they do not need to think twice about what to do or what to write. At the end of the day, you do not want to risk not receiving business-critical information.
A whistleblowing system can be a powerful substitute for management in remote areas of the value chain, such as in international organisations with global supply chains. So do not forget the value of other parties as potential whistleblowers. Opening up the reporting part of the whistleblowing system to external parties such as suppliers, partners, customers and the general public extends your reach, indicates that you are seriously interested in knowing if a customer or supplier uncovers misconduct, and signals a desire to be transparent.
Finally, for the younger generation digital communication is natural. A digital whistleblowing solution simplifies the initial reporting process for the whistleblower and thus removes some of the logistical and psychological barriers that might reduce the likelihood of a person blowing the whistle. Digital channels made easily accessible from all types of devices anywhere, any time are an effective way get a person to blow the whistle.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.