Does your whistleblowing programme work?

Global Publication March 2018

“There is a need for a culture in which concerns raised by staff are taken seriously, investigated and addressed by appropriate corrective measures” - Sir Robert Francis QC, “Freedom to Speak Up” review

Some of the most high-profile fraudulent behaviour in recent years has been discovered as a result of whistleblowing complaints or tip-offs. Whistleblowing programmes have become a vital element of corporate integrity programmes. So how is a truly effective whistleblowing programme achieved? A well-designed whistleblowing programme will combine the embedding of the necessary culture that actively encourages the raising of concerns with rigorous systems that investigate and respond appropriately.

A whistleblowing programme can only operate effectively in an environment that encourages, protects and values the reporting of concerns

Effective whistleblowing programmes make the raising of concerns a normal activity: models that rely on the existence of a policy or a hotline, where employees are either not aware of their reporting options or are too reluctant to raise issues for fear of retaliation, are likely to be lacking important sources of internal information.

Successful whistleblowing programmes are designed by a multi-disciplinary team, supported by boards, reinforced by managers and promoted widely throughout the business, with employees trained on how to raise concerns and, where applicable, receive them. Appropriate measures are taken to support those who have the courage to raise concerns and to protect them from retaliation.

At regular intervals, company management ought to ask: is our culture conducive to employees raising issues? Is the raising of difficult issues expected, recognised company-wide and rewarded in performance management evaluations?

A whistleblowing programme is only effective if it delivers results

Effective whistleblowing programmes are results-oriented: the primary goal of a whistleblowing programme is to reduce the incidence of improper behaviour in the company and thereby achieve the desired culture within the organisation. By encouraging more regular, open communication at all levels, and allowing issues to be dealt with at an early stage before they have grown in severity, a successful whistleblowing programme will, over time, lead to a change in employee behaviour. Equally, reporting on the outcomes of any investigations undertaken is fundamental in demonstrating the organisation’s commitment to its integrity programme. Outcomes should be reported to and pursued by the appropriate governance organs such as the Company’s board of directors.

At regular intervals, company management ought to ask: is our whistleblowing programme effective?

Norton Rose Fulbright advises corporates and financial institutions on the design, implementation and review of corporate integrity programmes, including the effectiveness of any whistleblowing programme. We believe that ethics and compliance are an integral part of any successful modern business, and we support our clients in developing robust and dynamic programmes that deliver results. For more information on our services please read our brochure here.

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