Few would have been surprised when it surfaced that complaints logged as early as 2014, about the improper allocation of expenses by former ANZ CEO David Hisco, weren’t investigated.
The story goes that while the whistleblowers had anonymity by virtue of the reporting line and initial process, the risk and compliance personnel tasked with investigating the complaint did not. The investigation could only proceed in broad daylight meaning the compliance team, their names and position, were not protected and, worse, were exposed. The risk therefore of having their careers dangled under the CEO’s gaze, like bloody meat to a fevered lion, eroded all likelihood of an investigation.
In this context the well-worn saying ‘don’t rock the boat,’ could only have plagued them. Its damning suggestion, stemming back to a 1914 quote by American lawyer and politician William Jennings Bryan, is that anything that destabilises the status quo, that creates disturbance, should have grave implications. On this basis, and with David Hisco’s reputation at an all time high, a powerful board of directors and a double figure share price, any hint of impropriety would have been untenable. This should not have been the case.
Fortunately time has moved on. Now, more than ever before, it is essential that ‘rocking the boat’ is encouraged if not celebrated as a test of a robust company culture and effective speak up. Investigating the behavior or actions of all employees – including the CEO – when concerns are raised is a measure of a well-run company. Only by rocking a boat do you find out if it is seaworthy. Only by investigating a report do you get to the bottom of the concern.
And yet pervasive folklore exists to persuade us of the opposite. That’s compounded by the assumption that there is a correlation between status, power and trustworthiness. We tend to trust those who sit in an organisational and hierarchical sense above us and will typically defer to their judgement based on their qualifications and experience – which may often contrast to ours. This is prevalent and well documented in the medical sphere and no doubt played a part in many scenarios such as those documented through the #MeToo movement.
When ‘the voices from below’ are denied a fair hearing, treated with suspicion or set aside due to issues of status, power and influence, then the potential for toxic rot is set.
In developing a speak up culture a level playing field must prevail. No one can be beyond reproach and everyone must be afforded respect.
In short, the boat must rock and every safeguard for those committed to exposing wrongdoing must be in place regardless of the cost and the means by which this is accounted.
If ever a slogan for speaking up was needed consider ‘Please Rock Our Boat’. For all you know your company may very well need it!