Current Whistle Blower Services have chronic under reporting, exposing children, volunteers, administrators and the reputation of the sport at risk. This weak feedback is interpreted by many Boards and Directors as “there are no issues”.

Historic reasons for not reporting have been tied to a “self regulating” culture that:

  • Requires adherence to personal authority, over corporate or external standards
  • Demands loyalty as a “team player”, to enable personal opportunity and progression
  • Encourages internal reporting, which exposes people to direct and indirect retaliation
  • Pressures people out, who do not “fit in”, reducing the likelihood of detection an correction

This approach is reinforced by the “reporting” process that engages directly with the administration’s internal functions.  These internal functions are performed by people who themselves need to maintain their employment.  This risk of nondisclosure has been increased though casualistion of the workforce.

There is normally limited to no testing of the system’s effectiveness.  If internal resources are used as first point of contact, then the system is already compromised, as is the organisation and its directors.

So unfortunately the organisation investigates the person that makes a report, in preference to an investigation of the system failures or the inappropriate conduct.  Some of this is born a mythological understanding of the law and its application.  Fundamentally instead of being an improvement opportunity, the process becomes one of balancing “competing interests” of individuals in the organisation.

Pre-existing taboos

When misconduct relates to personal actions, like sexual harassment (including assault and rape) or discrimination (disability, sex, age, race), many people do not have the skills or moral authority.  As opined by Guardian journalist Van Badham, the corporate response falls well short.

In many workplaces and for many employees, the expectation is they do not have to call out the misconduct (or criminal action).  They abdicate responsibility, asserting that the person harassed or discriminated against must take action first.

As a passive observer, watching a power imbalance play out, observers confuse what is a very public failure to meet a standard that should be called out, with the social response of “not my problem” unless it is reported.

In a public place, people may choose to make a poor moral choice.  The failure to act in the workplace is very different.  It is clear people in the workplace have a primary responsibility to act when another person is harassed or discriminated against.  This responsibility is not dependent on the action of any other person.

Poor moral choices in the workplace, either as an observer or as an adviser, are no longer acceptable.

Internal Machinations

In this process, organisational functions are called to into pay who may perceive their highest duty is to protect the organisation.  The highest ranking threat is reputational risk.  The divergent pathway for responding to reputation risk can look like:

Discloser FocussedManagement FocussedOrganisation Focussed
û Embarrassing informationû High achiever needs to be retainedü Understood as a systems issues
û Need to stop disclosureû Won’t happen againü System fixed
û Pressure on person disclosingû Once off incidentü Performance assessed against system
û No support for person calling out the activityû No support for person calling out the activityü Non-conformance identified
û Person who identified the issues leaves the organisationû Person who identified the issues leaves the organisationü Change requested
û No embarrassing informationû No embarrassing informationü Where no change made, the person not meeting the standard exits the organisation
û All disclosures are characterised as a personal grievance of the person who made the disclosureû All other employees learn not to speak upü Team focuses on improvement
û Major disclosureû Major disclosureü Minor issue
û Major loss of Reputationû Major loss of Reputationü Reputation neutral
û Write down in goodwillû Write down in goodwillü Goodwill sustained

 

In many cases the short term approach to “protect the organisation” is unsuccessful.  There are a number of brands that have ceased to exist or are under significant pressure due to this approach of:

  • Internal processes to control the disclosure
  • Short term approach to reputational risk
  • Discounting the unifying power of social media

Conflicted Roles

In many cases the people at the front line receiving disclosures, are already severely conflicted.  Where the Board, Director and CEO fail to address this issue, then ultimately the responsibility rests with the Board.   Examples where functions are likely to be conflicted include:

  • Legal focussed on the legitimacy of the claim; Where the aim is to protect short term interests of the organisation, this may have an unintended consequence of protecting the people involved in the misconduct
  • Human Resources focussed on “staff” issues; where the view is that the report is part of an employee conflict, then the substance of the issue will be less relevant then restoring “calm”. In many cases here is also a power imbalance with senior management being able to influence HR outcomes
  • IT focussed on use of the network; the network monitoring can be used to collect information about staff and their internet usage. This can be used for tracing and identifying the person who made a disclosure.
  • Line managers; who may be the first point of contact, who may themselves have conflicted loyalty and move to protect their associate rather than protect the person who made the disclosure.
  • Senior managers and CEO; who may be focussed on the business activity and have limited time to actively and positively investigate and close out the reported issues.

Current Barriers to Reporting

Even before the convergence of technology misconduct was underreported and now everyone is well aware of their digital “foot print” and how this facilitates tracing a person’s web activities.

Given the current low reporting of what is known to be a significant (and in some cases a prevailing problem performance) should put most Boards, Directors and CEOs on notice.  If the internal systems are not to some extent reflective of public data, their internal systems may be defective in providing a true picture of the organisation’s exposure.

The recent Queensland Supreme Court decision of Robinson v State of Queensland should give many pause for concern, whether management through active participation or passive actions contribute to bullying or harassment.

The reality is that there a number of personalities that thrive in this disorganised state.  They relish in the chaos, rely on power to pursue agendas and count on people keeping quite. In some cases they rely on others to do their bidding, including creating the right environment to allow them to prey on others, reaching settlement deals to “pay off” others and to drafting the Deeds of Release (AND confidentiality).

Knowing what we know, “internal reporting” is well past the due date for effective governance by Boards, whether ASX and ASIC companies, professional bodies or community organisations.

If we are serious about improving culture we need to empower all employees and contractors to call out misconduct through a process that protects them and the person harassed or discriminated against.

Given past direct and indirect retaliation, the ease with which people can lose their anonymity and the clear need for people who abuse power to be held to account, organisations need to design new ways of uncovering misconduct and making the necessary cultural improvements.

This approach should protect people from harassment and discrimination, act for the benefit shareholders and stakeholders and lead to a sustainable business culture.