Whistleblowers are our most valuable resource — are we creating a safe environment for them?
This piece was originally published via LinkedIn on 1 June 2018 in the context of the Australian Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation & Financial Services sectors, and the many examples of…
- whistleblowers from the past (like Jeff Morris at Commonwealth Bank) being ignored, sidelined, forced out, not listened to, not respected — indeed demonised and often subjected to campaigns to discredit and ruin;
- a continuing failure of the present, with the Royal Commission hearings highlighting many cases of lack of whistleblower policies or mechanisms, and those speaking out risking their careers, with little or no protection;
- the prospect of further future failures, as the defensive response from the corporate world (and government and regulators) was often inappropriate comments like “a lot of them are time wasters”, “it can eat up a lot of resource”, “they should just report it to their manager”.
…suggesting lessons had not been learned.
Here’s the original article (with an update following):
The smell of rotting integrity has been fishy for at least 20 years — surely it must be time for a sea change?!
Managing for Organizational Integrity
Many managers think of ethics as a question of personal scruples, a confidential matter between individuals and their…
But how? Maybe the answer is creating a safe environment for ‘whistleblowers’ rather than demonising them & marginalising them as the corporate criminals have done — and been allowed to do by other corporate criminals and politicians in on the conspiracy.
We see the phrase ‘the fish rots from the head down’ and nod ‘yes, a failure of leadership’, even though a brief study of piscine biology will demonstrate that the fish rots from the guts out.
However, it provides a useful framework for studying the ethics of organisations like AMP…
Royal commission recommends AMP for criminal charges
AMP has also been recommended for criminal charges for presenting to ASIC a report by Clayton Utz as independent…
Dollarmites bites: the scandal behind the Commonwealth Bank's junior savings program
Thousands of children's Commonwealth Bank accounts were fraudulently set up by retail branch staff as part of a…
ANZ Bank facing criminal cartel prosecution
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission confirmed the CDPP was expected to lay criminal charges against the…
…and the Victorian traffic police.
Officers blew into breathalysers themselves
VICTORIA Police has admitted it is "incredibly disappointed" with its members after a report revealed more than 250,000…
When rorting of ‘the system’ takes place across ‘the system’ — from Dollarmites bank accounts to roadside breath tests — what has gone wrong, how, why, when & where?
The rot has usually set in at the top with leaders who have pushed values and force fed ‘pay-for-performance’ systems that led to the unethical behaviour. These leaders seem to get away with it, or just resign saying ‘done nothing wrong’.
No-one pursues them — in fact Chairs, Board Directors & CEOs of these unethical corporations are often rewarded with another position where they can take their lack of integrity with them like an executive portfolio.
Others say that it’s not a problem of leadership but it’s ‘a culture problem’ as the guts of the organisation have clearly rotted. This is often a smokescreen. However, it’s a valid point that everyone knew it was wrong but went with it anyway.
So who has the responsibility — leaders or followers? We need both working in a mutually supportive and mutually beneficial partnership.
One of the biggest problems, possibly the biggest barrier to change, is that the toughest job of all is being a ‘whistleblower’.
Call out the lack of integrity, the unethical behaviour, the immoral activity, the regulatory breaches, the criminality — and instead of being rewarded, you find yourself having your livelihood taken away, your character impugned, your story trashed, your mental health destroyed. You end up in the dock yourself.
The very people who are potentially our saviours from the kind of behaviour that Rowena Orr QC described at the Royal Commission as “unlawful and ethically and morally wrong” are treated as criminals…by the corporate criminals. If they can survive the fight, they are often proven to have been right, but it’s 10 years and an expensive Inquiry later. Most don’t survive.
How about we make ‘whistleblower’ a core role within our organisations. Make it a properly supported role. Make it a sought after role that ambitious, career-minded people with integrity are promoted into?
Let’s declare freedom for the ‘whistleblowers’ — or let’s call them ‘ethical champions’! — and make it a priority to listen when we hear them blowing their whistles.
Paul Vittles FMRS FAMI FRSA GAICD is a coach, consultant & counsellor who has blown a few whistles in his time. He has scars to show for it, but integrity intact!
— — — UPDATE — — — JAN 2020 — — —
Following the publication of the Hayne Royal Commission Report, and the consideration of its findings and recommendations, there is some evidence of progress. The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) has given higher standards of ethical conduct a top priority, and worked in partnership with organisations like The Ethics Centre for a practical response…and there is a new statutory requirement for the larger entities:
7 ways to establish an effective whistleblowing policy
From 1 January 2020, public companies, large proprietary companies, and corporate trustees of APRA-regulated…
However, it still needs new cultures and mindsets, not just new structures and compliance regimes, and there is still much evidence of whistleblowers being punished rather than praised and valued:
APRA to look into Westpac's treatment of 'whistleblower'
"Case studies are very powerful tools ... clearly we would look at whether this issue has been handled appropriately,"…
And the treatment of Australian Tax Office (ATO) whistleblower Richard Boyle remains a test case after he was faced with the prospect of life in prison (!) for raising what he (and ABC 4 Corners) claimed was the ATO misusing its powers and, among other actions, freezing the bank accounts of small businesses in order to meet internal revenue recovery targets: