Perhaps you’re already convinced that a strong speak up culture is essential to the health and performance of your company—after all, a quick search of the phrase “speak up culture” on Google yields 884 million results—but have you considered that your risk visibility is incomplete without a robust speak up culture?
The Strategic Value of a Speak Up Culture
Your hotline’s value exceeds the box-checking regulatory requirement that it fulfills. It can provide insight into compliance issues, gives your team an opportunity to resolve issues before they spill into the press or social media, and prepares you to deal with risk. However, it can only do all of the above if you are capturing an appropriate number of reports—and that’s where your speak up culture, or lack thereof, becomes your biggest asset.
From a very simplistic point of view, it may seem that the fewer reports you receive, the better off your company is. Fewer reports should mean fewer instances of misconduct in the eyes of your company leadership. But as a practitioner of ethics and compliance, you’re probably aware that unsubmitted reports mean invisible risk. If employees throughout the business are witnessing misconduct but lack faith in the reporting process, then you won’t become aware of that misconduct until it’s too late.
What is Speak Up Culture?
“Speak up culture” means a workplace environment where all employees feel safe reporting their concerns and asking questions without fear of retaliation, confident that management will follow up appropriately and act on their report if necessary. Research from Coqaul, formerly the Center for Talent Innovation shows that companies with “two-dimensional diversity,” meaning management makes it safe to give feedback and ensures that everyone is heard, are 45 percent more likely to see their organization improve market share.
Speak Up Culture: Your Early Warning System
An effective hotline that’s part of a healthy “speak up ecosystem” can help your company prepare for challenges like litigation or external investigation. Your hotline isn’t just an expensive messaging service; it’s a portal to case management that should capture a detailed record of complaints and the associated documentation and actions taken. That audit trail is an essential element of your defense when a third-party regulator comes knocking.
Minimizing the Impact of Lawsuits and Prosecutions
Both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been known to offer non-prosecution agreements or deferred prosecution agreements to companies with robust compliance programs in place—and that includes your speak up culture and hotline.
Hotline audit trails can also deter lawsuits in some cases. Because the hotline information is discoverable, the reporting party’s attorney will be able to access it and review the actions of the company and their own client. In cases where the litigant has misrepresented the facts of the case to their attorney, this level of access to the case history can sometimes act to halt further legal action.
How to Build Speak Up Culture
Alright, you’re convinced that a speak up culture is key to your company’s ongoing growth, health, and risk management—so, how do you implement a strong speak up culture within your organization? It involves overcoming multiple challenges: fear of retaliation, lack of faith that reports will go anywhere, cultural barriers against “snitching,” and lack of awareness. Fortunately, many companies have overcome those exact scenarios, and we’ve compiled the resulting insights in our ebook about raising hotline awareness and improving reporting rates.
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