How to create a safe speak-up culture

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According to the Harvard Business Review, culture is the expression of vision, values, practices, people, narrative, and place. It is the way a company chooses to enact its mission in order to recruit employees, impact customers, and develop business. Big or small – it is pivotal your organisation fosters a positive workplace culture to retain top drawer talent, increase productivity and bottom line, and reduce instances of poor employee behaviour and misconduct.

While your business may not have budget to implement “big ticket” integrity risk management strategies – it doesn’t have to. There are some simple initiatives you can focus on to be proactive in how you build trust and foster a more positive and engaged culture in your workplace.

Here are three simple yet important steps your business can take to create a safe speak-up culture and start improving workplace culture.

1. Setting the “tone from the top” – create a statement of intent

We hear the term “Tone from the Top” thrown around a lot in the corporate world, and for good reason. It’s crucial that leaders are clear in communication around the organisation’s strategy, commercial outcomes and the expected behaviour of its people that contribute to its culture. When it comes to creating safe speak-up cultures, one of the biggest determining factors in your overall organisational success is for the leadership team to decide that they actually want to hear from their people.

So, how do you this? Create a statement of intent that you want your people to speak up. Be clear that you want them to report any wrongdoing or other issues that may be impacting them, the company, its people, and its customers.

2. Make it safe and easy for employees to speak up

Most organisations have established internal mechanisms that enable their people to speak up, such as the ability to visit HR or speak to a manager or senior leader. While this is a step in the right direction, best practice calls for you to go further by establishing external reporting mechanisms that complement – but don’t replace – those internal mechanisms.

Your people need various speak-up options and external mechanisms such as independent whistleblower or ethics hotlines can empower your people to choose the reporting mechanism that suits best based on the issue and their personal situation.

Independent and externally managed hotlines provide around the clock capacity to take reports in addition to access to experts who are trained at dealing in sensitive and complex matters. Importantly, external mechanisms also provide secure online reporting methods that make it safe and easy for people to speak up anonymously.

3. Reviewing reports and taking appropriate action in a timely and consistent manner

The final piece of the puzzle is perhaps the most difficult – taking appropriate action in a timely and consistent manner. You need to establish the right operating model staffed with suitably experienced resources to ensure reports are triaged and assessed and where appropriate, responded to.

Not all reports warrant an investigation, but all need to be acknowledged and responded to in a timely manner. Not all investigations may result in substantiated findings, but those that do need to have a robust process to determine appropriate outcomes and the applications of consequences found to be involved in fraud or misconduct.

Trust is built over the long-term by being consistent with your actions – whether that be in your personal life or at work. Follow these three simple steps if you want to create and sustain a safe speak-up culture where you hear about issues before they become the next crisis event for your organisation.

Darren Murphy, Managing Director, Core Integrity