Why You Should Encourage Whistleblowing At Your Company

Whistleblowing often gets a bad rap, but it isn't always about taking people or companies down. Here are five ways to encourage the practice for more aware leadership.

Schools don't teach whistleblowing, it’s not encouraged behavior in corporate America, and often whistleblowers are portrayed as criminals.

But while the average person knows of popular whistleblowers in the media like Snowden or Manning, few understand that they, too, are whistleblowers every time they suggest a change or improvement at work.

When someone blows the whistle, it's not about taking their company down, it's about suggesting improvements. And through this feedback, you can gain an honest insight into how your company is truly doing.

If you don't address the issues your whistleblowers bring to your attention, you could have a much more expensive problem on your hands down the road.

Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls of all those brands being dragged through the mud by encouraging whistleblowers in your organization:

1. Practice an Open-Door Policy

People are often afraid to discuss problems with their boss, or sometimes even talk to them at all. You can alleviate this by showing your employees that you adhere to a true open-door policy.

No matter how busy you are, always greet employees and find time to meet with them on a regular basis. Foster an environment where a level of healthy discourse is welcomed with open arms.

2. Provide an Anonymous Suggestion Box

Some problems need to be addressed anonymously. People simply don't feel comfortable breaking ranks to bring up issues they feel involve possible illegal or immoral acts they witness at work. Some entry-level employees will only mention a problem once and assume if it were important, someone above them would do something.

Snitching on other employees may be seen as sinister, and your people may be embarrassed to speak up. Ensure you have a form, inbox, or number they can contact for anonymous tips. The police have prevented and solved a lot of crimes with this way; your business could flourish from anonymous tips as well.

3. Walk Your Talk

Make sure you lead the way you want to be followed. If you take shortcuts, your employees will notice. The work environment you build isn't just what you say; it's also what you do.

Just like a child knows the difference between what their parents say and do, your employees know the same about you as well. If you rip off your customers or don't stand behind your products and services, why would your employees?

4. Take the Good and the Bad

Don't just ignore bad feedback or brush it off because you're doing well. You may be making money right now, but one day you may not be.

Negative feedback was all it took to land Donald Sterling in hot water after Vivian Stiviano blew the whistle on him. If the NBA ignored this negative feedback, they'd lose fans, sponsors, and, ultimately, money.

There are SEO services that can help you hide negative feedback online, but it's expensive, and the more negative actions your company takes, the costlier your PR gets.

Listen to negative feedback wherever you get it, especially internally.

5. Show You're Listening

People stop going to church when they feel God isn't listening. They stop voting when their government isn't listening. If you don't give proof you're listening to your customers and employees, they'll stop talking and eventually abandon you.

Implement small improvements—make the effort to show you value input and implement suggestions. Reward your people for speaking up, even if it's not what you wanted to hear. Every step you take counts, so move in the right direction.

Treat everyone in business, whether it’s your boss, partner, employees, or customers, with respect, and they'll do the same for you, building a solid brand in the process.

Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. Penny is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, Lifehack, and Main Street. He documents his experiences blowing the whistle on the banks and working with Anonymous on his blog.

[Image: Flickr user Holly Occhipinti]

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7 Comments

  • kathryn1969

    It is my opinion that the author of this article has written it as a means of justifying why he become a whistleblower by identifying that if certain actions/processes (practice an open door policy, provide an anonymous suggestion box, walk the talk, take the good and the bad, show your listening) had been in place he wouldn’t have needed to become a “whistleblower”. It is my suggestion that the majority of companies have developed at least some of the suggestions made or similar processes, whether by forward thinking or as a result of negative attention already received.

  • kathryn1969

    By going directly to the media (an external source to the military) instead of mentioning the issue to his manager (superior), Manning judged that the amount of happiness to the American public would be better option that the harm to other serving military personnel, of which he was serving with in a place of conflict thus causing them harm by potentially putting their lives in further danger. When the media declined to publish his issue for various reasons, he then went to Wikileaks anonymously, which is similar to the suggestion of “providing an anonymous suggestion box” (hiding behind anonymity is not an action that a person of virtuous character would do), by not wanting his name published whilst remaining in his role and gathering more information that was outside of his current positions responsibilities and was deceitful to other military personnel and the military as deceit is not a virtue either.

  • kathryn1969

    When an issue arises, the whistleblower needs to think about all the possible outcomes of their decision regarding the issue at hand. There are generally only two decisions to make 1) speak up or 2) stay quiet.

    Manning as mentioned in this article is a “whistleblower” as he decided to speak up. Given the various ethical theories (ie Utilitarianism, Kantian, virtue ethics) was whistleblowing the best ethical option to follow? From numerous other articles written about this issue, it appears that Manning’s actions were a means to an end, the end being his military career (possibly thinking that he would be removed from the military and not be charged with various counts of illegal activities such as espionage, theft of classified information, etc, found guilty and then be incarcerated in a military prison). Was Manning naïve enough to think that he could walk away without any punishment other than possibly losing his job, similar to other whistleblowers.

  • kathryn1969

    It is a common thought that whistleblowing is a disloyal action by an employee towards the company, but is it correct to have an association between whistleblowing and loyalty? As shown in our course material, Duskas basic claim is that a person can be loyal and expect loyalty from real people with whom one as a personal relationship to… but as a company is not an object or receptacle of loyalty, why is the word disloyal used? What if a person purchases the same brand of grocery item time after time, or if a person prefers to always own/drive a particular vehicle, is this not loyalty to an object or receptacle that is not a real person? Given that most companies are made up of people, is the disloyalty associated with whistleblowing, to other employees rather than the company? In my opinion a “whistleblower” is disloyal to the other employees not only in their immediate team but the wider team as well.

  • kathryn1969

    For employers to nullify the misconceived notion that employees who wish to improve processes are whistleblowers, for new employees, a clause can be contained within their employment contract requiring said employee to raise any possible improvements with management. For current employees, if contracted by a collective agreement, discussions/agreement with the Employers Union may result in the same clause being added to the collective agreement. A similar process for those employees on an individual agreement could be followed. However care would be needed to ensure that employees just don’t raise any irrelevant issues just because it is in their employment agreement.

  • kathryn1969

    Paragraph two states that “but while the average person knows of popular whistleblowers in the media like Snowden or Manning, few understand, that they too are whistleblowers every time they suggest a change or improvement at work”. It is my opinion that this suggestion is unfair in the sense that you are labelling everyone a whistleblower when the term “whistleblower” has negative connotations ie: disloyalty to the company/organisation. In this instance, making suggestions/improvement needs to be disassociated with the term “whistleblowing”. Most companies already have established processes for identifying improvements, similar to what is suggested in the article, points 1 through 4, which will assist in the operation of the company/organisation. Suggesting changes is about making possible changes to existing operational processes which may or may not increase the efficiencies and/or effectiveness of resources ie: employees, and/or increase productivity which will improve the profit

  • kathryn1969

    My response will be posted in several sections: Clarification: The following response to your article “why you should encourage whistleblowing at your company” is part of a Business Ethics Course that I am participating in, part of which I am required to respond to an article on a subject that is part of the course.

    The “Legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com” explains that “whistleblowing” is “The disclosure by a person, usually an employee, in a government agency or private enterprise, to the public, on those in authority, of mismanagement, corruption, illegality, or some other wrong doing”. Our course materials identify two types of whistleblowing, 1) internal and 2) external, with internal the reporting of serious wrongdoing to higher management and external being the disclosure of company activities to external parties ie: the media or a regulatory authority.