Trust and communications: pillars of an effective speak-up programme

Implementing a speak-up system is one thing; persuading staff to use it is the key to making it work.
Debbie Ramsay

Whether for regulatory compliance, industry expectations or simply good governance, the majority of organisations now operate a whistleblowing system. Indeed, the evidence in favour of both speak-up culture and speak-up systems is compelling. History tells us that many corporate disasters or public scandals could have been prevented if companies had listened when concerns were raised. From BP’s historic oil spill in the Gulf to the Equifax data breach and, most recently, the harmful content scandal engulfing Facebook; all could have been prevented if speaking up in the organisation had been more effective.

Illustration group of business people speaking with each other

But speak-up systems in organisations must do more than just exist. Successfully embedding a speak-up system takes careful planning. Critical to this are good communication and an ethical workplace culture built on trust. 

Encouraging speak-up in the workplace

Communicating and promoting a speak-up culture requires constant work and commitment. Companies that do this well work hard to reinforce speak-up messages in a variety of ways, incorporating these messages into everyday business activities, and treating speak-up communications like any other internal communications campaign. Success also requires the commitment of senior management who should be seen to reinforce speak-up messages on a regular basis. 

Good communication is a key pillar of effective speak-up. However, if stakeholders lack trust and worry how they will be treated for raising concerns, it will not serve its purpose. Establishing an ethical company culture which promotes trust between stakeholders is therefore vital. 

Webinar replay: Embedding an effective speak-up culture within your organisation

Building an effective speak-up culture

What does it take to create the right speak-up culture? Many of the ingredients that contribute to a good speak-up culture are also the essential elements of an ethical workplace culture.

Speak-up and culture are intrinsically linked. Through our assessments using the GoodCorporation Business Ethics Framework, we know that the extent to which employees feel able to raise concerns is one of the best indicators of ethical culture. Organisations with a real commitment to encouraging staff to speak up are more likely to identify problems early, address them and so avoid a crisis.

GoodCorporation’s 2020 survey on workplace culture, saw a rise in the number of workers feeling comfortable about raising an issue of poor or unethical behaviour (up from 59% in 2017 to 64% in 2020). We also saw an increase in the number feeling that concerns would be dealt with fairly and that they would be properly protected when speaking up. 

Organisations that successfully implement an open-door culture that promotes speak-up will strengthen the relationship and trust between management and staff, leading to greater motivation for staff who feel valued and listened to, and improved risk management. 

Guide to the Introduction of Whistleblowing Systems

How to successfully implement a whistleblowing system in your organisation.

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Guest author Debbie Ramsay (GoodCorporation)
Debbie Ramsay
Director | GoodCorporation
Debbie Ramsay is a director of GoodCorporation with over 30 years’ experience working for multinational organisations. She has significant expertise in communications and change management and is recognised as an expert on corporate culture. Debbie has considerable expertise advising businesses on their business ethics programmes from developing a strong code of conduct to assessing and embedding ethical behaviour.