In what seems like a distant memory, 2019 saw the introduction of new Whistleblowing Laws within Corporate Australia. These laws, most of which came into effect on 1 July 2019, strengthened the protections offered to Whistleblowers and placed a number of obligations on qualifying entities to stand up effective Whistleblower Programs. These new laws and requirements within Corporate Australia supplemented processes that already existed within the Government (State and Federal), in terms of the receipt, assessment, and handling of Protected Disclosures.
The net effect of these new Whistleblower Laws for many organisations was a substantial uptake in reports and complaints being received. Inevitably, some of these reports and complaints may have been out of the scope of the Whistleblower Programs, however, would still qualify as workplace issues that needed to be resolved. For this, and a number of other reasons, it has become increasingly important for organisations to “know their numbers”.
What does ‘knowing your numbers’ mean?
When we refer to an organisation “knowing its numbers” we refer to having a holistic and full view of matters that are being received through not only the Whistleblower Program, but the organisation’s Complaints Management Framework in totality.
It is important that an organisation has the ability to do relevant and effective data analysis of issues and complaints that are being reported to it. When we refer to doing data analysis, we mean more than simply knowing how many matters have been reported. It needs to go further than this and include aspects such as:
- The period and month that an issue or complaint was made;
- The relationship to the organisation of the reporter;
- The relationship to the organisation of the individual who is the subject of the report (i.e., the respondent);
- If you have a Whistleblower Program in place, how many reports qualified as Protected Disclosures and how many of these reports were done anonymously;
- What was the issue(s) raised in the report;
- What was the outcome of the report (e.g. was it investigated and if so, what was the result of the investigation); and
- How long did it take the matter to be finalised?
Why it is important to ‘know your numbers’?
The value of knowing one’s numbers is obvious in the sense that there would always be some form of value to knowing this. However, when you start to consider what this value may be, it becomes apparent that having access to, and an understanding of, the data relating to reports and issues received can help dictate the effective use of resources, time and identify where systemic issues may exist. In particular, the value of knowing your numbers includes that it:
- Allows you to do the required reporting to Boards and sub-committees of Boards. Directors have an obligation to understand key risks to the business and as part of this, need to know how many Protected Disclosures and the types (at a high, strategic level) of people-related issues that exist within the business. As a result, Boards should be requesting data on these points from the relevant business units. Knowing your numbers allows you to provide this information and meet such reporting requirements.
- Helps senior leaders understand the main issues that are arising in the business. It can often be difficult for executives to be across the types and prevalence of issues that are taking place within a workplace.
- Can help identify issues with an organisation’s culture, and further may provide valuable insight into why such issues exist (e.g. a problem leader). This type of analysis can be especially useful when you start overlaying complaint data with data from other sources such as exit interviews.
- Provides guidance as to what issues may need to be addressed through training and whether new or modified processes and/or procedures should be implemented. For example, if an organisation is receiving a substantial number of reports relating to alleged conflicts of interest, this intelligence might help the business understand that existing policies, procedures or processes may not be fully understood by staff. Further, it could be that training on what a conflict of interest is could be necessary to help address the issue.
- Provides a good pulse on the speak up culture of an organisation. All organisations should be striving to create a culture where people feel safe to speak up. Data relating to complaints can provide insights into how many reports are being received and through what channel they are being received. This helps an organisation get a pulse on whether people feel confident to speak up to managers and People & Culture Teams, or whether they prefer using anonymous channels or not speaking up at all.
- Linked to the previous point, it can also help drive an understanding of how effective reporting channels are and whether the channels that are existing are providing a good receipt of issues.
How to ‘know your numbers’?
While the concept of knowing your numbers is easy in principle, the practical implementation can be difficult for organisations, especially small to medium size businesses. The first step is making sure that you have a means of consolidating your data in one place. This can be through a case management system or other reporting systems. Some organisations may not have the resources to implement such systems, and alternate mechanisms such as Excel Spreadsheets may be required. As rudimentary as this may seem, it is better than not having any mechanism in place.
The second step requires that you give thought and consideration to what data you need to be acquiring and reporting on. This may require engagement with stakeholders like Board Members and Executives. Listed above are some potential fields but it is important to consider your requirements, which can be driven by a number of factors and considerations.
The third step is analysing the data. Once again, this is best done through a dedicated resource like a data analyst, however, once again, this resource is often not available for smaller organisations. As with what type of data needs to be tracked, consideration should be drive through engagement with stakeholders as to what analysis (and not just data points) these reporting stakeholders would like to see. This could include an analysis of how long matters take to close, the key issues (and locations where these issues take place) and other considerations referred to above.
Bringing it all together
The initial implementation of systems and processes to know your numbers can seem daunting and overwhelming in the beginning, especially if you are a smaller organisation that does not have the resources and systems to assist in this respect. However, it is important that the processes are implemented due to the value that they can bring to an organisation.
Taking small steps, such as a simple requirements document and/or business case can be a good place to start and get baseline requirements down. From there, sources of the data can be considered and written down and finally, you can start pulling together the data and documenting it in one centralised group. Once this is done and you have pulled together the data, you can do a review and give consideration as to some initial analysis. This can be provided to stakeholders for feedback and input.
Knowing your numbers and the subsequent analysis is key to driving a number of important cultural initiatives one being assisting in making it safe for people to speak up and having a compliant and effective Whistleblower Program.
If it feels too overwhelming to try and get processes in place to know your numbers, consider engaging external assistance and support to build out or manage the framework required to do the reporting and analysis. The investment, if done wisely, will provide worthwhile returns.