Strange words indeed. Why would she write such a thing, I hear you ask? Why indeed? Well, because if you give it some thought, the answer to the success of whistleblowing programs or should I say, Code of Conduct programs is in the detail. A little word that literally speaks volumes within your organization…
We know that whistleblowing, both fortunately and unfortunately, exists pretty much everywhere today even in places it is not really wanted. The fortunate part is easy; it’s great that people have been given a voice, albeit an often anonymous one to call out illegal practices within organizations, governments, and elsewhere. The unfortunate part is because, why should we have to sneak around anonymously to call out those practices? I mean, if there is something criminal or extremely risky going on, then I should be able to walk into my boss’s office or HR or my boss’s boss and say, “Look, I know I am only the analyst or administrator or whatever, but I have good reason to believe that a substantial amount of money may be being siphoned from particular accounts. I’d like to help plug the gaps and also find out where it’s going”, OR perhaps, “I have reason to believe that health and safety efforts are not sufficient to cover new employees, and several employees in key safety related roles have confided in me that they have had their documentation falsified. Should we do something about that perhaps?”
Why does it take a private, confidential, hidden-away Whistleblowing channel to do that? Why not spend efforts in asking why employees, suppliers, clients, citizens should ever need to use one? If we have values splashed over the walls of our offices and our digital platforms which shout, “Integrity”, “Innovation”, “Respect for each other”, “Teamwork”, and policies abound which “dictate” the same, WHY can we not simply just state the problem that we see (or think we have seen) and ask if this is real, or if we have perhaps gotten it wrong, without having to worry about retaliation in any form, shape or fashion?
Is it my moral idealism that causes me to think this way OR is it because some organizations have gotten a bit confused about where their values and culture begin and end, and where they apply and do not apply? Because, if those values, that are shouted out at every townhall meeting and from every brochure created, don’t apply as far as speaking up for what’s wrong, then surely the moral compass of the organization has gone somewhat adrift.
Now you may say, Andrea, you are missing the point: the real reason behind Whistleblowing programs is to protect the accused as much as the accuser? Yes, I agree, that is certainly worthwhile because no one wants to be accused of as much as stealing a company stapler if they did not actually take it. But perhaps the real efforts should be spent in creating a new culture of how we speak to one another in organizations where the tone is not accusatory, but one where we are seeking improvement for the organization. Let’s take two examples to see how this might sound:
“I think that Stephen, my boss, is siphoning thousands of dollars from various accounts across business units; you should probably look into that.”
“I have seen examples of money disappearing from various accounts across business units so there could be foul play. I am also an auditor within that area and have spotted some gaps that we could plug to avoid this being a problem in future”.
Same problem, just a different perspective highlighting the problem.
Now if we were to take it one step further as was suggested to me by a wise man recently, we could even decide not to search for the perpetrator(s) for certain cases (meaning that there would be no repercussions of being fired or imprisoned (unless of course there is actual death or serious injury)) and we would only focus on fixing the problem whereby fraud, health and safety, environmental incidents, etc. were allowed to happen. At the end of the day, aren’t they just processes that have gone awry?
Going back to the title of this article suggesting we don’t use a whistleblowing channel (even if we have one) but instead create a culture of real “Teamwork”, “Integrity”, “Respect for one another” and “Innovation” to simply fix the wrongdoing and move forward. Wouldn’t this create a more transparent culture befitting of the large colorful positive words splashed on your office walls?
Would love to hear your thoughts…