How to Develop an Effective (and Believable) Speak-Up Culture

How to Develop an Effective Speak Up Culture

Increase employee confidence with a speak up culture

A speak-up culture is a workplace culture that values and encourages employees to express their fears, provide their feedback, ask questions, raise concerns, and make suggestions without fear of retaliation or any other kind of harm resulting from speaking up.

Generally, employees want to have a voice in the core operations of their company. This includes what types of customers they serve, what services or products they produce and serve to those customers, and how those products or services are established and distributed or sold.

Employees want to have a voice in those types of fundamental operational decisions and have a voice without any fear of retaliation.

One method to reduce internal risks and non-compliance to company policies, procedures and objectives is to create an environment where employees feel like they are able to come forward with reports of wrongdoing when problems arise. And to do so without being punished.

The ability for employees to report on ethical breaches, ask questions, or provide suggestions provides leadership with an opportunity to identify troubling hotspots and prevent possible disasters from happening.

Confidence in non-retaliation when speaking up can boost internal conversation, anonymous or otherwise, because employees feel safe to report what they see, when they see it. When employees feel safe to report misconduct, it sends a clear message that management is interested in having easy, or tough conversations, and is interested in what employees have to say. This helps create a speak-up culture, and this can reduce harmful risks to the organization.

Given the importance of reporting and anti-retaliation, companies that manage their own ethics and compliance risks correctly are able to develop strong ethical cultures.

What does your organization's speak-up culture look like?

Having a speak-up culture is more than just having a hotline in place, or other avenue for employees to voice concerns. Just because you believe you have a speak-up culture it, doesn't mean you actually have one.

Here are some tips to consider when you develop a speak-up culture you want employees to believe in:

  • Efforts and resources are needed to develop and maintain a speak-up culture

Olympians don't just happen over night. Much effort is put into creating something that has a chance to be successful. If you put in the time, you will be rewarded. Don’t limit your view of a speak-up culture to just ethics and compliance. A speak-up culture is created from all corners of the organization. Companies of the past had a top-down driven belief where their message was ‘here’s the strategy, this is exactly what we’re going to do, and we (the leaders) know best’. Today, organizations tying to build a believable speak-up culture know that they have to put in the time and resources to make it happen. They also know they have to be patient while the culture goes through growing pains and trust starts to build.

  • Metrics will help assess the effectiveness of a speak-up culture and the tools to support it

How effective are the tool(s) you have in place to allow the ability to offer a speak-up culture? With a case management system, you can track how many substantiated investigations resulted from employees speaking up. The tool you use should be thorough enough to provide you with the who, what, why, when, and where of each reported concern. Who knew? When was the report raised? What was the response to the report? Who did not report incident who may have known about it (and why didn't they)? What lessons were learned? All of these factors should be measured and investigated in order to learn what exactly is happening, or not happening, in the organization.

  • Make employees feel comfortable raising concerns without fear of negative consequences

The best thing you can do is thank your employee for speaking up about something that likely they felt uncertain speaking up about in the first place. Employees may fear speaking up about wrongdoing because they feel like their fears may be dismissed as unimportant. If a climate is created where employees feel safe speaking up about small day to day issues, then employees will be more likely to speak up about more serious issues. One of the biggest obstacles you may face is earning the trust of your employees. The biggest factor driving an employee’s decision to not speak up is fear of someone finding out who they are, and fear of retaliation if they do speak up

  • Ensure employees and third-parties are able to report wrongdoing (contractors, customers, etc.)

You have the ability to learn about misconduct not just from employees, but from other stakeholders as well.. The best ideas often come from those who are on the front lines. People who are 'in the trenches' may see things that leadership does not so allowing anyone the ability to speak up will only help build trust that stakeholders, internal and external, have in the company.

  • Recognize employees who bring issues to the attention of the company.

Employees like to be recognized and rewarded. Recognition is an essential part of the employee experience, and it serves to improve employees’ satisfaction and engagement levels. Recognition or reward doesn’t need to be monetary or excessive. It can be a simple thank you that everyone can see.

Organizations with a poor a speak-up culture risk having employees taking their concerns, and the organization’s dirty laundry, to social media or the press.

The most important thing you can do to create your believable speak-up culture is to ensure that leadership focuses on promoting the ability to speak-up freely without retaliation. And ensure that employees feel safe and confident when they do speak up. Creating a speak-up culture is vital in uncovering ethical and safety related issues within your organization.

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photo Amanda Nieweler

Amanda Nieweler

Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.