Using Communications to Drive a Speak Up Culture

Thomas Fox
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Compliance Evangelist

If you have never checked out the podcast Creativity and Compliance on the Compliance Podcast Network, this week might be a good week to do so. I co-host this podcast with Ronnie Feldman, founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Learnings and Entertainment. On Friday, our episode is how compliance communications can help drive a speak up culture. Be sure and check it out to get the full flavor of our dialogue on this topic.

How often have you thought about the role of communications in your entire hotline reporting system? I do not mean posters giving the hotline number, promising anonymity and non-retaliation. I mean using compliance communications to create a social environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up to ask questions and report concerns and they know the options for doing that.

Why do many compliance professionals find it so difficult to use compliance communications to help move the ball forward on driving a speak up culture? It begins because many conflate such communications with training. Training tends to be viewed as something that happens once per year or on a similar cadence. Yet even the Department of Justice (DOJ) has seen through the fallacy of this argument in its 2020 Update to the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs when it stated, “companies have invested in shorter, more targeted training sessions to enable employees to timely identify and raise issues to appropriate compliance, internal audit, or other risk management functions.” The 2020 Update also leads to the following questions, what resources have been available to employees to provide guidance relating to raising an issue? And, has your company assessed whether its employees know when to seek advice and whether they would be willing to speak up? Can you answer these to satisfaction of the DOJ? If not, you may have a gap in your speak up communications program.

Moreover, one of the themes of Creativity and Compliance has been its fight against dull, boring training which is not listened to or quickly forgotten if listened to at all. When it comes to hotlines and speak up this is particularly true when dull posters or other non-creative technics are used. It can also come off as preachy or inauthentic when it really should be inspirational. Obviously, cadence can also be a reason as many companies will have a speak up campaign once a year for a few weeks or worse, every other year.

While antithetical to most compliance professionals, in the back of many employees mind, there are still those old tapes telling them “It’s not cool to tattle. Don’t be a snitch or a drama llama.” When the thoughts are not as nefarious, many people still may not want to get involved, believe that someone else will probably take care of it or even do not desire to get anyone else in trouble. Whatever the excuse is, you as the compliance professional will have to reverse this kind of thinking, which takes time.

What are some of the things that you can to do establish trust? It should begin with the idea that communications are more important than training because it allows you to continually promote compliance and do so creatively so people pay attention and remember. Creativity is the key. But the message is as important as is being creative. You need to strive for transparency in the process. Ryan Rabalais has called this the “Black Box” problem in compliance. Employees do not understand the process so they do not trust it.

This is where transparency comes in. You need to use stories to share the mechanics of your process. Make sure employees understand that they will be kept apprised of the steps you are taking. Each allegation, issue or report should be triaged, investigated to conclusion, followed up with an action step if warranted. Of course, if the report is serious enough, it may be elevated to senior management or the Board. Even if this happens, you need to keep transparency in mind to the extent you can do so.

Finally Bob Conlin, CEO of NAVEX Global has said, “A speak-up culture only exists when it is paired with a true listen-up culture.” This means that you will need to provide skills and resources for management so that they will be able to accept a report, an issue or information that an employee wants to speak up about. As Feldman continually reminds us, improv is really about listening so you can learn listening skills through it.

All of this may seem more challenging during the time of Covid-19 and the current economic dislocation where the vast majority of employees are working from home (WFH). It is during this time that compliance communications are even more important. Yet even within these strictures, there are some creative actions you can use. How about compliance ‘commercials’ during Zoom meetings. You can take the Zoom concept even further by having a Zoom talk show around compliance. You can include an outside compliance professional. Want someone with a comedy bend, look no further than Ronnie Feldman. How about Compliance Jeopardy? Want to take it a step near and dear to my heart, how about a compliance podcast using internal stories of compliance victories. I would love to help you get started and you too could be on the Compliance Podcast Network.

The bottom line to all is that in compliance, you are only limited by your imagination. When you overlay creativity on your imagination, you can create something very special. And you can use compliance communications to drive a speak up culture.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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