Whistleblowers and whistleblowing are in the news more and more these days. From Harvey Weinstein to the Supreme Court taking up a whistleblower case, the news is filled with stories of persons stepping forward to report on unethical, illegal, or simply nefarious conduct. For most Americans, there is one name most associated with whistleblower: Daniel Ellsberg, who recently gave a lengthy interview about his experiences in releasing what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers and how those issues are just as relevant today.
Wendy Addison also spoke about her experiences in bringing to light fraud and corruption in LeisureNet Ltd. back in 2000. Her whistleblowing helped convict the companies joint chief executives of fraud in one of the biggest corporate scandals in South Africa. Based on her experiences she founded the organization, SpeakOutSpeakUp. Addison’s experiences took her into a legal framework, which she noted happens “after the horse has bolted. The whole narrative around whistleblowing is very emotive and it is natural for people to feel psychologically conflicted because it goes against our natural propensity to loyalty.”
Addison believes companies can gain more by not simply listening to their employees or even stating you have a speak up culture but that companies must “support a culture of psychological safety by flattening hierarchy, reducing power differentials.” She thinks it is important to put a human face on the entire process by making it personal through such tactics as “giving out the name of people who will be operating the hotline, the name of the compliance officer and general counsel and of the human resources officer in charge.”
The lessons for the compliance practitioner are profound. The establishment of a culture of trust is only the first step. You have to continually work through a 360-degree of communication approach to let employees know their concerns will be taken seriously and there will be no retaliation. It is an ongoing dialogue and process. All of us may not have the courage of a Daniel Ellsberg or even a Wendy Addison but companies can help foster a culture to create greater accountability through their internal reporting process.