Speak-Up Culture: The Definition and Importance of the Speak-Up Culture

Posted in Internal Controls on June 3, 2024
Speak-Up Culture

Before the world had a speak-up culture, in ancient times, in the indictment, a denunciation coincided with the accusation, which in all criminal cases was supported not by official bodies but by private individuals. Without the accusation and exposure in court, a secret denunciation did not inspire confidence. It was attributed to the informer’s prejudice: the accused was considered innocent in the absence of the accuser.

Extremely negative attitudes toward informers are noticeable in Roman law. In the inquisition process, on the contrary, denunciation was the basis for the so-called inquisition, which was very burdensome for the accused. At the end of the eighteenth century, there were protests against the importance of denunciation. The voice of this movement was Gaetano Filangieri.

He proposed to approve a rule that all denunciations remained unnoticed by official bodies. He objected that it was the duty of every citizen to report crimes and that obliging an informer to prosecute would mean allowing many cases of concealment of crimes. The French legislation established the notion of civil denunciations that are obligatory for citizens. The provisions of the revolutionary legislation have been preserved in modern French law.

Speak-Up Culture

What is a Speak-Up Culture?

Speak-Up culture can be easily called one of the basic parts of human rights – freedom of speech and open statements. Perhaps to each of us, at least those familiar with Soviet culture, who have lived there or read and heard about it, SpeakUp culture is primarily associated with denunciations and squealing. Here I would like to take a short break at the very beginning of our lesson. The line is very thin, of course. But I would call squealers – those people who speak covertly with one goal to show that someone is worse, that they did something so poorly, but I am so good at it, I did everything right; moreover, I provide you with information.

A denunciation also has a negative component, but the core, in this case, is slightly different. The purpose of an informer is to organize a particular person’s punishment by informing them about the partial truth. There is always an objective lie between the squealer and an informer. Why objective? Because deep inside, they know perfectly well that they provide inaccurate information. In the culture of compliance, speaking of speak-up, we understand that a person who openly declares information is an informant who is not indifferent to what is happening around them and cannot be neutral about injustice.

The purpose of an informant is to warn the company and the state against troubles. Of course, the information an informant provides may not be entirely true. Still, the point here is not in specifically added false information but in the most ordinary human subjectivity and limited opportunities to obtain additional information. One of the best, in my opinion, definitions of “informant” is as follows: it is a person who has made public actual or supposed fraudulent or illegal acts committed by employees of a government institution, public, private or commercial organization.

For companies that want to increase their chances of avoiding trouble, it is better to encourage informants, develop a culture in which employees can express their concerns, and, most importantly, solve them. The focus and goal of the company in the introduction and supporting speak-up tools are, first of all, a clear statement that the company works fully transparently, openly, and honestly.

This encourages immediate notifications of any potential company policy violations, applicable laws and regulations, and cases of misconduct that affect the company or its employees or imply their involvement. The keyword is “potential” violations. But here, it is mandatory and very important to provide access and mechanisms for channels of trust to provide a mechanism for control and protection. Control involves the establishment of a committee on disciplinary action. This committee will conduct internal investigations.

It is also important that every employee is informed and convinced that the company will not use the mechanism to prosecute an employee for involvement in the speak-up culture.

Thus, it is the direct responsibility of the company to provide its employees with the opportunity to notify of a cause for concern and troubles without fear of persecution; in particular, it is the direct responsibility of the functions of ethics and compliance and the security service. Mainly companies hire a third independent company to service investigation processes, create archives, and streamline work—Convercent in Xiaomi and VEON and Navex in Apple.

The importance of independence is that an employee is confident in the impartiality of their company and management. Speak-up culture must provide the opportunity to apply anonymously. The company must commit itself to protecting such reports with the help of security and confidentiality measures.

Speak-Up Culture

The following are the typical questions from employees and answers from well-known companies in the global market in which the culture of compliance has already taken root and is active:

  • I know some employees behave unethically, but this does not apply to me. Why should I notify you of this? We stand for ethical behavior. Unethical actions at any level harm the company and all employees, including you. Think about recent corporate scandals. Think about the catastrophic consequences of a harmless kickback for a fairly good organization. If you are aware of unethical behavior, consider it your duty to notify them. The same can be said about your colleagues.
  • I cannot determine whether what I have noticed is unethical or violates the company’s policy, but something is wrong here. What should I do? Submit a report. It is better to notify of an ordinary situation than not to notify of an unethical act because you are not sure if it was a violation.

What Stops People from Becoming a Part of Speak-Up Culture? Why Do People Not Follow Their Intentions?

In 1970, two psychologists, Latané and Darley, developed the most influential five-step decision-making model that allows bystanders to intervene – along with potential psychological barriers associated with each step. Under the corporate scenario, these barriers that prevent employees from notifying of a situation will include the following things:

  • Inability to notice an event because of time constraints, distractions, self-focus, and focus on personal interests due to the selfish orientation that prevails in the organizational culture.
  • Inability to identify a situation as suitable for intervention because of problems with defining what a situation is, lack of knowledge, or a social influence when a person sees others’ passive reaction and considers it as a sign that the situation may not be as serious as they perceive it.
  • Inability to take responsibility because of diffusions of responsibility in the presence of other bystanders or personal obstacles such as lack of confidence.
  • Non-intervention because of lack of skills, not knowing about a hotline, and how to use it.
  • Inability to intervene because of the ban on the audience. There is a weak culture of expression of internal “norms” that contradict intervention, the desire to maintain identity with the group, and the unwillingness to “react sharply” and get embarrassed.

Some ideas include changing “internal” social norms and recording how many people have already expressed concern when faced with unethical behavior. At the same time, it is also extremely important to continue building capacity with the help of training programs. While measuring their effectiveness, do not forget to consider the gap between intentions and actions. 

One of the core values is honesty, which means that the company must be transparent. Anyone who becomes aware of a potential violation or cases of misconduct that affect the company, or attempts to cover up such cases of misconduct, must notify of this by using “Channels of Trust.” Social networks of the company’s top management sometimes also become one of the channels of trust.

Speak-Up Culture

How to Correctly Communicate Information to Employees?

If you become aware of any potential or actual violations of anti-bribery and anti-corruption policies, you must notify them. The company will take any of your words very seriously. You can be sure that the company will not allow any negative actions for notifying you of violations or cooperating with the investigation. Remember:

Bribery and corruption are crimes. If you detect or even suspect them, you should act immediately.

  • You are a key link in the fight against bribery and corruption.
  • It does not matter if you are directly or indirectly involved in the situation. You are responsible in one way or another.
  • The company has developed policies, procedures, and systems for notifying of violations and related suspicions.
  • Always ask first and then act.

Here is a real example. During a regional training session on the topic of speak-up, there was such an atmosphere of trust that employees approached the trainer after the first session, raising the issue of dishonesty and injustice. When the coach asked what this injustice consisted of, the employee explained the problem and described the situation.

The trainer asked if the employee had clarified this issue with the management or someone from the company, and it turned out that he had not. The employee kept it all to himself and stopped talking to the colleague involved in this issue.

As a result of the trainer’s involvement, the issue was clarified. As a result of this, it was found that nothing bad had happened, just the changes that the employee did not know about had taken place. He did not speak to anyone, did not raise the issue, and did not ask for clarification, probably because there was fear that the fact of a violation was potential and not proven. The speak-up culture encourages you to raise issues, even if you are unsure if there is a violation, to avoid such situations.

Final Thoughts

Employees and external people (e.g., customers, clients, partners, etc.) are encouraged to report concerns about anything from unethical behavior to a compliance lapse in an organization with a speak up culture. This will be taken seriously and used to inform internal decisions, regardless of its size, scope, or manner. It can take a long time, money, and effort to shift to a speak up culture. You must plan your approach, establish a hotline, and rally your employees. However, all of this work has tangible and intangible benefits for your organization.