Blog: Why fostering a speak up culture makes good business sense

Posted on August 17, 2021

Sylvain Mansotte, CEO & Co-founder of Whispli

In 2012, I received a call from the newly appointed Chief Procurement Officer of a large Australian-based construction company to assist in building a new function. I jumped at the chance, and one of my first priorities was to understand my new employer’s third party spend profile.

Within two months, I had uncovered a $20M fraud that spanned 12 years and led to the perpetrator – a finance executive with 30 years of experience in the company – admitting to the crime, and ultimately being sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Although I was promoted in my organisation, I could not stop thinking about how my experience as a whistleblower could have been better. I was initially reluctant to approach any of my colleagues, and did not feel confident speaking to the third-party organisation appointed by the company because it would compromise the anonymity I felt was necessary.

In 2016, I left that company and decided to build a better solution. That is how Whispli was born.

Creating a speak-up culture based on trust

A speak-up culture is a key component of organisational culture, aligned with a company’s values, goals, and purpose. It cannot be treated as an isolated process managed by one function in the organisation such as human resources or compliance.

A positive speak-up culture will empower employees to raise concerns, escalate issues that are impacting their work, morale, level of engagement and productivity. When concerns raised (in good faith) are acted upon, it demonstrates that an organisation cares about its employees. An organisation that ‘walks the talk’ on its speak-up program, by acting on matters reported, will continue to build employee trust around its program. In turn, this will reinforce and support a healthy speak-up culture. Speak-up programs that pay lip service to employees raising concerns, and in effect function as a tick the “compliance box” exercise (e.g. reports are not actioned or ignored), will have the opposite effect – they will erode a speak-up culture and trust.

Who benefits?

A positive speak-up culture will:

  • Contribute to the building of trust and transparency with employees.
  • Increase the visibility of hidden risks that might damage an organisation and its greatest asset: its people.
  • Improve employee engagement and positively impact their wellbeing, which in turn will increase productivity and retention.

How does an organisation benefit?

An effective speak-up program and culture will help an organisation to detect risks, early on, that might have a devastating impact on the organisation’s employees, reputation and financials.  With the pandemic shifting the way we work (e.g. remote work, travel restrictions, dependence of suppliers and contractors), it is increasingly difficult for risk, ethics and compliance teams to have visibility across their organisation. With this in mind, it is increasingly important to value employees as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the organisation who can escalate matters to the right teams, with safe and secure reporting channels in place.

A speak-up program that is accessible across all functions and units of an organisation will support effective investigations, through the centralised gathering of information. With more people finding their voice through the promotion of a speak-up culture and with increased legislative protections for whistleblowers, organisations need effective pathways to channel reports. Frameworks for dealing with reports need to be effective so that people who speak-up see meaningful change and outcomes.

Like a false positive with a smoke alarm, a reporting individual may get it wrong. That is okay, as long as employees continue to be encouraged to speak-up. Building a healthy speak-up culture means creating a safe environment for employees to engage in difficult and courageous conversations without fear, shame or guilt. This means building trust to ensure that employees are open and willing to report suspicion of misconduct or wrongdoing. According to the 2020 Report to the Nations, tip-offs remain the most effective way of detecting wrongdoings, with 43% of occupational frauds detected in this way.

Where do I start?

  1. Build top and middle management support for a speak up culture in your organisation
  2. Define the roles of key internal stakeholders in supporting a speak-up culture
  3. Explore which secure and user-focused reporting channels your organisation might implement

Access whistleblowing resources on the Bribery Prevention Hub here.