Derek Bishop


Positive whistleblowing

Date added: 08th Apr 2015
Category: Employee Engagement

When is whistleblowing not whistleblowing? Quite simply, when it becomes constructive comment received in the natural course of business.

When is whistleblowing not whistleblowing?  OK we admit that our opening question sounds a bit like one of those strange wordplay jokes but there is a serious point to the question.  Thanks to a series of high profile cases, whistleblowing of late has taken on a somewhat negative connotation.  Popularly seen either as the sneak from long ago school tales or as the oppressed individual speaking up in the face of big brother control, it is hard to think of whistleblowing without thinking of an organisation which has strayed onto the wrong path.

And it has to be said that there are some instances in which organisational culture has become such that the only way to raise concerns is to step outside the organisation.  But these are the exception rather than the rule and as corporate culture moves away from insularity and short-termism and towards a more ethical stance then their numbers will continue to decline.

Does that mean that whistleblowing has had its day?  Far from it, but in some organisations the word is gradually starting to lose its negative connotations and start to be a force for good.  Thinking about it logically, whistleblowing is simply a way of raising concerns about processes, procedures or attitudes within an organisation.  Indeed it could be said that those who raise concerns are far more engaged than those who simply accept the status quo.  Looked at in that light, caring about a business, caring about customer service is something to be encouraged rather than suppressed.  So organisations which encourage their employees to stand up and speak out are in fact putting a positive spin on whistleblowing.

Of course, they may not call it that.  Feedback reports, 360° reports, collaborative interactions, speak up processes may all have less negative connotations but at the end of the day they are all methods of raising concerns with a view to changing the business for the better.  In a bid to understand and spread good practices in respect of whistleblowing ACCA and the ESRC are calling for proposals “for in-depth research into whistleblowing which will inform new work that will build on their recently published report called Culture and Channelling Corporate Behaviour.”  Commenting on the ACCA website its Director of Policy, Ewan Willars said “’We are seeking global proposals that identify the benefits, challenges and best practices associated with internal and/or external types of whistleblowing or speak up arrangements.”

Corporate culture is evolving rapidly.  New disruptors, the effects of technology, fresh levels of expectations from employees and customers are driving a change in outlook and attitudes.  Those who adopt innovation cultures are seeing flatter more collaborative structures replace strict hierarchies and in this new more free-wheeling world, it should be far easier for concerns to be raised and voices heard.  Indeed, when customers and suppliers are being drawn into the innovation mix, the challenge may well be to find ways of effectively channelling the quantity of feedback received and then communicating the underlying decision appropriately.

When is whistleblowing not whistleblowing?  Quite simply, when it becomes constructive comment received in the natural course of business.  Those organisations with a strong culture which embraces feedback and turns it into a positive force already understand this.  As more and more organisations follow their lead, perhaps one day whistleblowing will universally be seen as a force for good.

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