3 Simple Steps to Creating a Safe Speak Up Culture

I am often asked by our clients on how they can get the most out of our Speak Up Integrity Hotline programs and how they can get their people to speak up, and whilst there are many facets to setting up an effective program, when it comes down to it, there are 3 simple things your organisation can do to create a safe speak up culture.

‘Culture’ is a buzzword many throw around in modern workplaces. While people may mistake workplace culture with activities such as casual Fridays, ping pong tables or an office happy hour, it is important to remember these perks are only a result of culture – they do not determine or define it.

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 your bottom line, and reduce instances of poor employee behaviour and misconduct. Research from Queens School of Business and the Gallup Organisation shows businesses with low employee engagement scores experience 18 per cent lower productivity16 per cent lower profitability and 37 per cent lower job growth over time.

For a small business, the benefits of a positive workplace culture cannot be understated.

While your business may not have budget to implement ‘big ticket’ integrity risk management strategies, don’t worry – 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 your 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 the leadership in any organisation is clear in its communications regarding the organisation’s strategy, the outcomes it is striving to achieve commercially and also about 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 to decide that they actually want to hear from their people (amazing huh?😀).

Going further, that they want their people to speak up to report any wrongdoing or other issues that may be impacting them, the company, its people and its customers.

So how do you this? Create a statement of intent from the leadership to all of your people that you want them speak up. Be clear that you want them to come forward if they see something that isn’t quite right and that if they do, you will take it seriously and you will look after them.

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

Now that you have made a clear statement of intent and encouraged your people to speak up, you actually have to make it safe and easy for them to speak up.

Most organisations have established internal mechanisms that enable their people to speak up such as speaking to your manager, visiting HR or speaking to a senior leader. Whilst that is good, best practice calls for you to go even further by also establishing external reporting mechanisms that complement, but don’t replace, those internal mechanisms.

Your people need various options to speak up and these should include both internal and external mechanisms such as an independent whistleblower or ethics hotline.

The benefit of this approach is that you are empowering your people to choose the reporting mechanism that suits them best based on the issue and their personal circumstances.

Independent and externally managed hotlines, like Core Integrity’s Speak Up Integrity Hotline provide around the clock capacity to take reports as well as experts who are trained at dealing in sensitive and complex matters.

Importantly, they also provide secure online reporting methods that make it safe and easy for people to speak up anonymously whilst maintaining ongoing, two-way communications wiht those investigating their concerns.

Research from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners shows 45 per cent of occupational frauds are detected via an internal ‘tip’ – this is 3-times more effective than other detection methods.

3. Reviewing those 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 have made a statement of intent that you want your people to speak up and have supported that by implementing both internal and external reporting options.

Now you need to establish the right operating model staffed with suitably experienced resources to ensure that those reports are triaged and assessed and where appropriate, responded toin a timely and consistent manner.

Not all reports warrant an investigation, but they 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 supporting them regarding determining appropriate outcomes and the application of consequences for those found to be involved in fraud or misconduct.

Building trust takes time

Trust in anything is built over the long term by being consistent with your actions.

Whether that be in your personal life, with your finances or in your job. 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 to deal with.


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About Darren Murphy

Darren Murphy’s expertise spans his 25-year career in law enforcement as a detective in the Fraud Squad with the NSW Police Force and within the corporate sector. Across his career, Darren has managed hundreds of complex and sensitive whistleblower investigations, including transforming a traditional whistleblower hotline into a full-service Speak Up Hotline at one of Australia’s largest financial institutions. From internal and external fraud, bribery, corruption and employee misconduct, Darren is an industry leader in integrity and conduct risks. Darren is passionate about protecting an organisation’s reputation, people and bottom line, and looks to help senior executives implement a proactive approach to how they manager their fraud, corruption and integrity risks.

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