2017 was a transformational year in the way we expect leaders to behave.
In the business of Loss Prevention and Risk Management, we are often faced with scenarios where an event or situation went on far too long as we find during the course of the investigation when things blow up.
The CEO often asks “why did we not know about this sooner?” Think Hollywood, Politics, Price Fixing, Money Laundering, etc…
The answer is simple yet shocking. In most cases, we did know something, or at least we should have because somebody saw or heard something. BUT they just didn’t speak up.
But why not?
This could happen for a number of reasons; misunderstanding the magnitude of the problem itself, fear of repercussion, or the organization just simply did not have an open and fair culture inviting for a whistleblower to voice their concern.
Transparency is about running an organization in the open, not in the shadows, not behind closed doors, not in secrecy. It is about allowing people to see what is happening, no hidden agendas, no secrets, and no skeletons in the closet.
How you get there is simple, but you need the courage to take that first step.
Make a firm statement about what will and will not be tolerated
“Tone at the Top” – The CEO must draw a line in the sand that open dialogue is paper of the culture. If she or he believes it and conveys it to the next line down, then there can be no misunderstanding of the intention.
The statement must be made from this level and can not be delegated to a third party communication team.
I was reminded of a story I once heard many years ago. It was titled “When the CEO sneezes, everybody gets pneumonia”. The essence of the story was that the CEO sometimes makes very subtle signs of their belief, and it cascades throughout the organization. The messages can be good or bad.
So in order to create the tone at the top, the CEO must make an intentional and deliberate message that openness is welcome and that anybody in the organization who sees wrongdoing is authorized, invited, and encouraged to come forward without fear of repercussion.
Hire the right team
Sounds easy enough to hire the right team, doesn’t it?
In a separate article and video, I speak to this topic in much greater detail. The key to this formula is the word “right”. If you ask 10 people to give you the definition, you will likely get 10 variations. That is because what is “right” for one may not be right for another.
Prime example; the food we consume. Cow, horse, and dog are all on menus somewhere in the world. But cultures vary and it may not be right in one particular culture to consume any of these meat products.
So hiring the right team, in this case, means hire with openness in mind. It means the initial statement made by the CEO must be communicated to all new hires, at all levels. Essentially you need to make them right in some cases.
Many times an incredibly successful Executive in one company, joins another “open” company, and begins to make backdoor deals, or keep secrets to “insulate the CEO from the unimportant issues they don’t need to know about”. This can result in a catastrophic failure to an “open” company.
Teach and train your staff to behave appropriately
The previous point mentions “making new hires right in some cases”. There are critical points in a person’s career when they can be influenced. These can be seen as defining moments, the moments that shape us as leaders.
One of those points of time is the first few days of any new job with a new company. And that point can make or break you, but one thing remains constant – it is memorable.
On the other hand as an employer, this is the best time to make that statement about your company’s passion and commitment to transparency. If it is a memorable time for the employee, take full advantage and make that statement loud and clear. Call out the rules, explain the importance of compliance, and let every employee know where they can turn if they need a voice.
Support the cause with a management system
A management system is an effective way to ensure that you create that transparency. There are some very effective third-party companies that can manage this for organizations. Call them tip lines, hotlines, whistleblowers lines – they are there for a reason – objectivity, anonymity and due diligence.
Having an outside company take these calls is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength and confidence in your commitment to transparency. It helps establish objectivity and keeps the management team at arm’s length from the reporting mechanism. It frees them up to triage the information objectively that is then transmitted via the outside company. You can find resources for qualifies companies such as Whsitleblower Security in the tools section of the website.
I recommend for organizations that have a full management structure, that a committee of the key stakeholders be assembled to conduct this triage.
All too often when allegations are made, and a specific department receives the allegation, they view the details from their set of lenses. They may dismiss an allegation if they are not properly equipped to evaluate it appropriately.
A cross-functional group allows input from the experts in their own right.
Take for example a male manager taking a female employee out to dinner. What is the issue? It could be a number of reasons, but if it is viewed as a possible violation of expense rules, and the evidence is
Inspect what you Expect
One of the most common variables that exist when an event goes on too long is the lack of follow up. This notion of complacency is difficult to avoid. It takes a deliberate action on the retailer’s management team.
In another article, I speak about follow up in terms of accountability. All too often a manager will get the sense that too much follow up, and calling out of negative behaviour, conveys some sort of mistrust. Leaders must address this when they get to this crossroad, and take the right path for the business.
Follow up and accountability are not disrespectful action, they are simply good management!
Promote an open and safe culture of communication
You need ambassadors to promote your brand. Yes, the tone needs to come from the top, but that message needs to cascade throughout the organization. Every single person working for you needs to be able to voice the same message as the CEO if it is truly going to be cultural. Culture is a shared belief, not a mandated one.
An invitation to speak should be extended at every opportunity. This starts with disclosure. Every employee should be given an opportunity to disclose a potential conflict on a regular basis. The best practice I have seen in this regard is to attach it to the evaluation process annually. This does not mean that it has to wait, but formally the question needs to be asked of every employee “do you have any reason to believe you have a conflict of interest”. This allows situations to be disclosed, triaged, addressed, and once again – open.
Follow up on every reported suspicion.
Fatal error for businesses – assuming an allegation is simply the voice of a disgruntled employee and ignored.
Nothing more to say here – just don’t get caught failing to follow up. It can cost a company dearly.
if you promote an open environment, be prepared to give it 100% for anything less can be viewed as disingenuous and recovering from this reputation is next to impossible.
The Bottom Line is this; in a transparent organization, there are no surprises. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Hello, I'm Stephen O'Keefe. The information you read here is intended to help businesses answer some of the tough questions about everyday events in the retail environment. After spending over 3 decades in this industry we've seen a lot!
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