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On a bad day, even a tap on the shoulder can seem like a kango hammer of criticism.
That’s the problem with internal speak up lines. Bad days happen and not everyone can handle, with reason and calm, feedback that includes allegations of misconduct or negligence.
Internal speak up policies that direct concerns to disaffected management, on a bad day or otherwise, can create fresh issues that only exacerbate the problem.
External speak up lines such as New Zealand’s Report it Now remove the potential for concerns to be magnified through any such lens.
In short, external speak lines protect a business reputation through offering consistency of both tone and process. Its called professionalism.
Effective speak up must effectively embrace the opportunity for customers to raise issues around business performance and behaviour. Customers represent a central part of a company’s operational future. Their voice at all times must be heard with clarity and, at times, compassion.
On this basis, speak up is not only a risk management and compliance tool but also a means of protecting a business reputation. New Zealand has only 600,000 small to medium businesses and that’s without including the charitable sector. Reputations, in most cases, are only as good as the last 8 hours or the last interaction. That’s the difference between the primacy effect or the first time one deals with a company – which can lead to loyalty – and the recency effect when already high expectations ensure any disappointment hits hard.
As a reputational tool, how a speak up matter is dealt with – and the processes including the training that are in place – is important. It can’t be left to chance.
An attitude of not wanting to speak to a reporter or impacted customer because a signed contract implies (wrongly) that they are not paying the bills and therefore they do not warrant attention is appalling. Worse, not knowing that the business belonged to a membership organisation with the ability to mediate such concerns compounds the original issue. However unlikely this may sound, it happened.
Along a similar scale, the morale of the employees – be they senior management or somewhere inbetween – is important if a speak up process is to be managed effectively.
As the impact of Covid bites and as companies and charitable organisations continue to review their operations – making employees redundant and cutting back on services as a matter of course – then assessing the fall out on employee morale should become risk management 101.
There can be no surprises to uncover that the employees who are retained as a restructure rolls out can become increasingly distressed and defensive when trying to achieve the same service delivery and quality under pressure – irrespective of changing demands.
A subsequent discussion around misconduct that results in a tearful manager, reflective of the stress and strain they are under, is worrying. While a critical nationwide charity left to fend for itself, on a financial and resource platform, is something no one wants to experience, this alone can’t be a reason for not reporting misconduct.
In both examples defensiveness whether rudely or sadly dished out still tasted cold.
Training in speak up is one of those areas that can’t be left to lapse without encountering consequences. It’s no small stretch to suggest that training oversight allows the bedfellows of short cuts, black-and-white thinking and a culture of “not my problem” to sleep easy.
Speak up processes warrant more respect than this. External reporting lines reinforce professionalism particularly when a business is under pressure and when employees are distracted. As a safety valve external reporting lines protect more than just a company’s reputation they also protect the people – the managers and employees – that they serve.
On a bad day, a really bad day, an employee can’t be blamed for wanting to keep their head beneath the covers enabling a neutral party to receive the opening volley. This is good governance and as speak up good governance goes, it is really, really good.