6 Tips To Help You Communicate Your Whistleblowing Program
You have developed your whistleblowing policy and thought through each step of your whistleblowing process. Now your whistleblowing platform is all set up, and you can receive anonymous reports. You also understand how to receive anonymous reports, engage with a whistleblower, and investigate what's been flagged up. Everything is complete, and you’re ready to communicate your whistleblowing program to your employees.
If there is a step where whistleblowing programs fall down, it’s typically this one. You could have a world-class whistleblowing program, but if you don’t communicate it well, employees will never use it. The communication phase is where you sell your program and help employees to understand how it will benefit them.
In this article, we will provide you with six tips to help you be successful in communicating your whistleblowing program. We’ll outline what you need to think about as you roll out your program and execute on your overall whistleblowing strategy.
Understand Your Audience
Before communicating your whistleblowing program, ensure you understand your audience. You might now be a whistleblowing expert after developing your program. For most employees however, this will be their first experience with anything related to whistleblowing. It’s imperative you understand who your audience is, what messages resonate, and what's the best medium to communicate your program.
Some key questions to ask yourself:
- How aware is your audience of any existing corporate values or code of conduct (so you can link your program to programs they already know about)?
- Is your audience more office-bound or are they always out in the field (or a mix of the both)?
- What corporate channels do they use to get information (email, intranet, face-to-face meetings, or social media accounts)?
- What communication strategies have worked well for other initiatives?
- Also, the flip side of this question; have there been any initiatives poorly communicated and why was that so?
- When you think about the average employee - do they want a simple, easy to understand message or are they looking for more details and specifics? Do you need both? How can you structure your communication so the message is clear but additional information is readily available?
A great best practice is to go out and actually talk with your audience. Answer the questions above to come up with some initial ideas and then test these out with actual employees. What you learn might surprise you and will help you craft a message that helps them better understand your whistleblowing program.
Articulate What’s In It For The Employee (Sell It To Them)
After you understand your audience and how to craft your message to resonate with them, next focus on what’s in it for the employee. Many corporate messages are very top-down and instruct employees on what they need to do, and quite employees ignore them.
From understanding your audience, you will have insight into how to sell your whistleblowing program. How you sell it will be unique to your organisation. The different approaches you might use include:
Altruistic. “Being able to report misconduct is the right thing to do, and we want to enable this for our employees.”
Growth. “We're growing fast, and we need the right processes to help manage this growth. This is especially true with so many new employees joining our organisation. Giving you the ability to anonymously report misconduct is a key piece to enabling our employees to help uphold our values.”
Improvement. “We’ve had some issues with misconduct in the past, and we know we need to improve. Allowing employees to anonymously report misconduct is a key part of this improvement, and we want them to have the ability to make reports.”
Corporate Values. “We hold our corporate values dear, and we want to understand when we, as individuals or as the organisation, are not living these values. Allowing employees to submit anonymous reports helps us understand this better and take action to uphold our values.”
Management/Ownership Changes. “As our management reviewed the organisation, one area we identified was how employees could help anonymously report misconduct. It’s an important way for us to address this misconduct quickly and give our employees an anonymous channel to make these reports.”
Keep Your Message Simple (But Link To More Details)
If it's hard to understand your whistleblowing program, employees won't pay attention to it. They receive lots of messages about new initiatives, and if your message is not simple, they will ignore it. Your whistleblowing program is incredibly important to you, but to employees it’s just another initiative they're receiving an update about.
Use what you’ve learned about your audience and how to sell to them to start crafting your key messages. Your goal is for them to know there is a whistleblowing program and where to learn more. Keep this message simple, so employees can easily remember it. Often a catch-phrase linked to your message can be useful to help make it stand out and be remembered. No matter what you think of Donald Trump, he is a master of the catch-phrase. We now have all heard “Build That Wall” and “Lock Her Up”. While you might not agree with what he says, you probably can immediately link each of these three word catch-phrases to the broader concept he is communicating.
While keeping your message simple, you will also want to link to additional information. Providing more detail helps those employees that want to understand more about your whistleblowing program. It’s also helpful for when someone wants to make a report - they can dig deeper and understand how and where to do this. It’s a balance - keep the message simple but make it easy to access additional information.
Communicate Anonymity, Then Communicate It Again
No matter your company culture or the values you uphold, a whistleblower is always thinking about the worst case scenario. Maintaining anonymity is a crucial way to protect themselves and ensure they do not face any retaliation. Your messaging about anonymity needs to begin way before an employee ever becomes a whistleblower.
If an employee does not have confidence that they can make a report and be anonymous, they won’t even take the first step. You want to instil confidence that you will protect their identity. When employees experience misconduct, you want them to instinctively think about how to make a report. Focus on over-communicating the anonymity of your program and highlight how you will protect their identity Provide examples of how you will do this; whether it’s your processes, your whistleblowing policy, or the features of the whistleblowing platform that you are using.
Your focus on anonymity will be second nature to you, but many employees will be cynical about it. Approach your communication with the view that you need to convince them your program is truly anonymous, as compared to assuming they think this already. One message on anonymity is not enough - you need to keep at this to ensure employees believe it.
Reinforce Your Message Over Time And Across Channels
As humans, our mental retention is quite low and hearing something one time is never enough. That means you'll need to reinforce your whistleblowing message to employees.
This reinforcement can be over time. After your initial communication campaign, set up a cadence of communication to remind employees about your program. Communication can be short messages linking back to the key themes of your program. Reinforcement is crucial as companies bombard employees with new messages every day. If they hear only once about your whistleblowing program, they will forget it as they hear new messages. Work to communicate at different times of the year and integrate your message within other communications. Your updates do not need to be unique to your whistleblowing program. They could be part of other corporate messages that mention your program. An example could be an update about corporate values that mentions your whistleblowing program.
It's also important that you are working across different communication channels. As part of knowing your audience, you will have learned what channels work best. Use this knowledge and leverage these channels to remind employees about your program. You can combine senses to increase memory. Combinations can include seeing (posters), hearing (company meetings), and reading (email, intranet) about your program, all of which can help employees remember your key message.
Ensure Your Message Lives On
Make sure when you roll out your whistleblowing program, your communication does not end there. While you might have success with your initial rollout, organisations always change. New employees will join, acquisitions will happen, and change is constant. You need to ensure everyone coming into your organisation receives your message and training about your whistleblowing program.
It's easy to communicate to employees when you launch. Next up is to think about how new employees will learn how to make anonymous reports. If they don't learn about your whistleblowing program in their onboarding and initial training, it's a pretty safe bet that they won't learn it on their own. Make sure you leverage your hard work and put this into your new employee training. You want everyone joining the organisation to have the background on what to report and where to report it, as well as how your organisation approaches whistleblowing.
As we stated earlier, your whistleblowing program is only as good as your employees knowing about and how to use it. From our experience, the communication stage is where many organisations struggle. They are now moving from just their team's work to involving the entire organisation. If there is not enough communication, then employees don't make reports. And the wrong communication creates confusion and potential misuse of the program.
However, when you get the communication correct, that is when you will see everything come together with your whistleblowing program. Moreover, this is when you see benefits - employees that feel the organisations follows its values as well as getting the reports that help you spot hidden risk and take action.