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There are four key areas you need to focus on.

1. Make it clear what you expect from employees and managers

A clear policy, communicated once, is not enough – words are open to interpretation and confusion.  In order to truly embed a culture that promotes openness, encourages employees to speak up and recognises that constructive criticism creates agility, an organization needs to go further.

For example; organizations should use real case studies, suitably anonymised, of cases of misconduct and where speaking out has lead has led to positive outcomes; be clear about the consequences of misconduct; provide information in a variety of ways (e-mails, notices, briefing documents, online, videos); keep updating information; emphasize and show the behaviours required by employees and managers; address employee (mis)perceptions about how they will be treated; clarify to both managers and employees what their roles are.

2. Prepare managers

Managers are the key step to creating a courageous culture.  The first contact between an employee who wishes to raise concerns about potential misconduct and their manager is critical if the employee is to believe that they are going to be taken seriously. 

Organizations need to train and develop managers to respond positively to employees who raise issues.  Not only does this involve telling managers ‘what’ they are supposed to do – the traditional approach to training, but also ‘how they should do it.  The ‘how’ involves the often-called ‘softer’ side of managing such as two-way communication, being approachable, non-judgmental and setting expectations of future behaviour.  Finally, organizations need to reinforce the ‘why’ – why it is important to create a courageous culture.

Part of preparing managers involves helping them to understand the effects of raising misconduct concerns on their broader team.  While such issues should always be treated confidently, often such issues will become wider knowledge and the manager needs to be aware of how to treat such knowledge and recognise the signs of wider retaliation against the employee.

3. Make it realistic

Courage type policies – whether whistleblowing, ethics, compliance or integrity – are meaningless unless both managers and employees can recognise the examples and relate them to their own work environment.  Providing checklists, tools, decision trees which are then built into wider learning and development, major business meetings, linked to strategic decision making processes and so on are all ways of ‘grounding’ such policies in the employee workplace.

Organizations that have multi-geographical locations face an even more important requirement to overcome local customs and practices – making such policies a local activity and not something that ‘Head Office has imposed’.  Part of this process is to recognise that there is no single approach to how such policies are implemented, that different communication channels and messages are required to reach all managers and employees; and that there is no ‘one size fits all’ training.

4. Lead from the top

Finally, courageous cultures must be lead from the top.  It is critical that the C-class managers not only agree with the approach but ‘own’ it – reinforcing ideal behaviours, taking appropriate action when misconduct is identified, holding direct reports and others accountable for their implementation and providing the resources necessary to implement such a culture properly. 

Part of this approach is to build the key values into the various assessment tools throughout the organization – recruitment, management development, High Potential, performance assessment, variable reward – and to use behaviour based measures to ensure that those being assessed provide real examples of such behaviour in action.

Changing or reinforcing an organization’s culture is a long journey as it requires human beings to accept the need for change and then adapt their behaviour to ‘fit in’.  However, the four key areas identified show that organizations can take practical small steps to begin the journey.