I’ve talked previously about how courage is a competency, a skill that can be learnt and developed. And like any other competency, organizations can help their employees to become more courageous.
But why would they bother? If whistleblowing is an extreme act of courage, why would an organization encourage employees to be that disruptive? (For the lack of any doubt and see some of my previous blogs, whether the whistleblower is ‘right’ or not, the act of whistleblowing creates enormous and very public stress to the organization involved.)
For me it’s simple. There are a range of reasons why creating a ‘courageous’ organization make business sense.
Organizations that encourage their employees to be courageous and ‘speak their mind’ experience few instances of whistleblowing.
Why should employees go to the media when they have so many other ways of raising their concerns?
Whistleblowing has become associated with employees or ex-employees taking their concerns to external bodies such as the media or regulators. However, courageous organizations not provide employees with many different ways to raise their concerns, they encourage employees to raise them early before they become major issues.
More engaged employees
Very few employees ever become whistleblowers. Most employees, when confronted with practices or behaviour that they disagree with tend to exhibit two other, more common, types of behaviours.
If the organization is lucky these employees will resign and seek employment elsewhere. Rather than face the stress of fighting the ‘system’, they’ll look for companies that don’t exhibit such practices.
However, if the organization is unlucky, the employee will stay and disengage. Employees will become nine to fivers – simply doing their job, nothing more then they’re told with little or no initiative. Really disengaged employees will start to become very negative in their outlook and can ‘infect’ their workgroup with the negativity and approach. These employees are very difficult to fire – in most countries it is very difficult to get rid of employees with the wrong attitude if they continue to do the minimum job requirements.
Employee engagement has become a hot topic over the last ten years and while the evidence is starting to stack up in support of the concept, the basic idea is one known to the very first pioneers in employee welfare two hundred years ago e.g. the Quakers – treat employees as unique human beings and they will return your investment in terms of higher productivity and lower employee turnover.
Contrary to popular belief, most innovations do not come from mad inventors working in their lab in splendid isolation. Most innovations actually occur through groups of people with diverse backgrounds, knowledge and experience working together to solve a perceived problem. The key driver of successful innovative groups is the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.
Courageous organizations encourage mistakes. Courageous organizations are willing to take risks and, rather than hide them, are prepared to share them so that others can learn from the past. While courageous organizations may or may not have R&D functions, they all have employees who are willing to step outside their job descriptions in order to solve a perceived problem, even if they run the risk of embarrassing themselves to do so.
Because courageous organizations have engaged and innovative employees, they are more flexible in adapting to their environment. As technology has bought the world closer, traditional forms of competitive advantage such as distribution, quality and cost are becoming easier to replicate and better. New types of organizations are emerging to take advantage of the new technology, organizations that do not rely on hierarchies, reporting lines and accepted ways of doing things.
Courageous organizations do not have to rely on senior managers to keep pace with the ever changing marketplace. In courageous organizations, employees feel empowered to speak out when they see potential issues whether they come internally or externally. And because the organization has the communications channels and the willingness to listen to such employees, they are better placed to respond to potential threats and opportunities.
Becoming a courageous organization makes great business sense. Less whistleblowing, more engaged employees, greater innovation and greater agility lead to higher revenues and lower costs. Why wouldn’t you want to at least think about it?