Talk to Simon? Why employees don’t use internal speak up

Simon is Simon Henry the hapless and now humbled CEO of dual listed ASX / NZX listed DGL Group.

His dubious commitment and non-existent championing of his own Code of Conduct only goes to prove that Simon is not someone you would turn to easily if you were an employee of his experiencing racist or sexist comments.

Simon’s tone from the top has been publicly called out by New Zealand’s business, investment, professional and charitable communities, with even the Prime Minister sharing her concern.

His comments have been labelled everything from offensive, sexist, misogynistic, racist and arrogant, to appalling, distressing and unacceptable.

Even so, the DGL Whistleblowing policy highlights that Simon, in his capacity as CEO, is one of the people a whistleblower can ‘turn to’ under certain circumstances.

This defies belief. It reinforces why internal whistleblowing measures don’t stack up.

Ignoring the mindset is not a solution

Simon won’t be the only CEO or member of a senior management team to hold discordant views. Nor will he be the only one to operate with a mindset apparently impervious to change. But, the threshold of tolerance for such views across the DGL C-suite has, arguably, been too high.

Investors and clients now know Simon’s true colours. His executive management team and employees probably knew about them years ago.

True colours rarely dim with time, in fact success and seniority often intensify their depth – unless a major eruption occurs. As it has.

Major investors have blacklisted DGL stock and major clients have sought answers. The share price withered some 23% wiping some $273 million off the value of DGL stock.

During the media scrum, the Board of Directors faltered but eventually initiated a culture review to ensure “respect for diversity and inclusion is embedded firmly throughout DGL Groups culture at all levels”.

Ethics Conversation Advice

I have some advice to offer.

Start by reading the DGL code of conduct

Ask why the highest paid executive is not championing ethical behaviour with a personal and meaningful introduction.

Then switch focus to the accompanying whistle blowing policy.

Ask why it has the name of their legal firm firmly stamped on every page, and why boxes for DGL to complete still remain as boxes for DGL to complete.

Further questions could include:

                What is the advantage of specifying “capable” and “eligible” whistleblowers as opposed to those who may still be capable but not eligible?

                Does limiting speak up to “disclosable matters” or “operational areas only” negate the value of other types of speak up reporting?

                Does providing lists of authorized and eligible recipients – including regulatory agencies and unspecified auditors, depending on what is being said or why – genuinely promote speak up?

                Does Australia-centric information despite a workforce in New Zealand reflect a genuine commitment to all employees – or just some?

                Has the CEO and his senior leadership team undertaken any training to ensure they listen effectively – building, in the process,  trust and confidence in an internal whistleblowing regime?

                Could a simple policy and the provision of a professional, neutral and experienced external speak up agency such as Report it Now add value?

The heavyweight law firm has undeniably discharged its professional and legal responsibility – but, in my opinion,  the Board or senior leadership team, will be no further ahead if their sincere intention was to encourage a speak up culture.

And it’s sincerity that is the missing ingredient. Much like one of famed chef and business founder Nadia Lim’s recipes, each ingredient makes a contribution, and the legal blend alone leaves a ‘dodgy’ taste.

Speak up concerns itself with the fearless and free ability to raise, discuss or highlight concerns, issues, processes or behaviours – pretty much anything that is bothering  employees or broader stakeholders and may or might potentially have serious or harmful implications.

Aiming to constrain and contain what needs to be said is singularly unhelpful.

In these times speak up may also include the opportunity to provide compliments or constructive suggestions about where improvements could be made. This works to normalize speak up so that it is presented as an everyday thing to do.

On this basis, Report It Now an independent and global ethical reporting service supported by EthicsPro case management software – and real people to take phone calls –  brings with it major advantages .

The thing is, wanting to know what employees and other stakeholders notice, witness or experience is important. Trying to sanitise information or limit its content to legally approved insights is insincere in the wider scheme of things.

The legal opinion or advice comes of value once the information has been captured – not before.

The DGL whistleblowing policy will achieve one thing and one thing only. It will tick the box, courtesy of an Australian law firm, for the need to have a whistleblowing policy.

But if anyone thinks that is how the whistle gets blown they need to think again. Or, maybe, if they are feeling brave, talk to Simon.

Jane Arnott MNZM is director of the Ethics Conversation.

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