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7 pitfalls to avoid when implementing a SpeakUp programme

Last year, we teamed up with our friends at Dentons and organised a webinar in which we provided practical advice when implementing a SpeakUp programme. Our speakers engaged in a conversation geared around helping you to avoid 7 common pitfalls when implementing a SpeakUp programme. For those who could not attend, please find a brief impression of the main topics discussed in this blog.

     1. Success starts with the right choice of words and message

Be mindful of the words that you use to promote your SpeakUp programme. Due to cultural and historical influences, there are a lot of negative connotations surrounding the terms ‘whistleblower/whistleblowing’. Talking about your peers is quickly perceived as snitching and people do not want to be associated with a ‘whistleblower’.

In the end, you want to ensure that you create an environment in which your employees feel safe and encouraged to voice your concerns. Therefore, engaging in a dialogue is essential. As a result, you also want to refrain from referring to your programme as a ‘hotline’. This could give a potential reporter the impression that the aim of the programme is to gather information, instead of engaging in actual dialogue with follow-up questions.

     2. Make it easy to leave a message

Speaking up is not easy! While leaving a report, people can be angry and emotionally confused. The process of leaving a message should therefore be as easy and as low-barrier as possible. If it is not immediately clear where & how to report, people will start to look for alternatives.

Avoid a multitude of channels, complicated legal terminology and unnecessary intake questions.  Instead, focus on one clear, easy to find and low-barrier point of intake where people can leave their report in a free format.

     3. Provide an option to report anonymously

Sometimes there is a breach of trust between an individual and the organisation that they work for. If that person truly feels mistreated or they fear retaliation, they will only report if they can remain truly anonymous. As an organisation, you do not want to miss these important messages!

Please note that confidential reporting is not the same as the ability to remain completely anonymous. However, do not replace existing (confidential) reporting mechanisms with a reporting tool that facilitates anonymous communication. Instead, offer your employees a ‘1, 2, 3 approach’ by which they can choose the reporting setting in which they are most comfortable.

     4. Follow a headquarter-centric approach

As an organisation operating in different countries, you want to be legally compliant in the jurisdictions that you operate in. However, if you are just starting to implement a programme, this can feel overwhelming.

As a starting point we advise to follow a headquarter-centric approach with an overarching legal framework. Focus on safeguarding confidentiality and non-retaliation. Make sure to translate your  policies into local languages and make sure to involve local works councils.

     5. Focus on communication

Communication is one of the key elements that influences the success of your SpeakUp Programme. If your employees do not understand what to report where, no messages will come in. Make sure that everyone within your organization is behind the programme. If the Board does not like it and they do not endorse the programme, people will lose trust in the system and no one will use it.

Make sure to positively approach the topic and include a tone from the top. Avoid the use of complicated legal terminology and make sure that you do not refer to your channel with different names. Position SpeakUp as a last resort principle and create printed communication material that people can take home or read in private places.

     6. Handle reports properly

One mishandled report will mean that no one will trust and use your reporting tool again. Invest in a proper team to handle the incoming reports and ensure that the tool that you use takes into account the appropriate privacy & information security aspects.

Take a ‘service approach’ towards the reporter. Acknowledge their receipt in a timely manner and keep them updated during an investigation. Put in place a competent team to deal with incoming reports, investigations and the communication with messengers and outsource this process to a trusted partner if you lack the internal resources.

     7. Measure and learn

Creating an effective SpeakUp Programme will be a continuous journey. Use the information that you gather and monitor the awareness of your tool and programme. You can include two simple questions in an employee survey:

  • i) are you aware of our SpeakUp programme?
  • ii) would you use it to report a violation of our Code of Conduct?

Set KPI’s for yourself and benchmark these to industry standards. Praise the people who reported and share details of how incoming SpeakUp reports helped your organisation to bring about change. This will contribute to creating a safe SpeakUp environment that people will trust and use.

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