Tuesday 25 August 2020 6:00 am

Why the whistleblower is truly the boss’s best friend

Alla Konnikov Mashensky is director of LGCA - London Governance & Compliance Academy.
and Georgina Halford-Hall
Georgina Halford-Hall is chief executive of WhistleblowersUK.

Whistleblowers have an unfair reputation.Traditionally known as the “snitch”, or the “traitor”, the whistleblower — especially in the corporate services firms — should be rebranded as the “chief executive’s best friend”.

We need to change the stigma of the whistleblower. Historically, those who dared to speak up — whether to uncover a persistent culture of bullying or unmask misappropriation of funds and falsification of data — have conveniently vanished: paid off, demoted, or even silenced with threats.

And while some individuals have had the guts to come forward and raise concerns, to implore for justice, their health, finances and careers were ruined, and their allegations and moral characters questioned.  Often, with time their fortitude has ebbed, compelling them eventually to accept a paltry pay off to end the torturous nightmare. 

Meanwhile, in any organisation, having a notional whistleblowing champion or a risk management system is a good start. Yet most often, the existing endeavours at fostering a culture of transparency and accountability are merely glib attempts to pacify the regulator, appease the investors, and gag the staunch iconoclasts. 

It is time for the paradigm to change. It is time that we do not just embed internal processes and a veneer of wellbeing, but we live and breathe change. It is time that we systematically and consistently shift a rampant culture of stealth, greed and disrespect to one of openness, fairness and morality.

The board of directors collectively — and especially the chief executive — are subject to directors’ duties to act in good faith in the interests of the company and have responsibilities to set the long-term strategy and embed values into its organisations. Thus, top down management has a concrete duty to preserve the firm’s reputation by ensuring that internal systems are robust and effective, not just a superficial, marketing, tick-box ploy. 

They should listen and heed the concerns of the whistleblowers for those are the single most effective, internal, early alert to potential risks within organisations. Whistleblowers are the first line of defence against crime, corruption and cover up, providing an opportunity for an organisation to tackle potential wrongdoing and prevent catastrophic consequences later on, preserving the reputation and value of the firm and confidence in the financial services sector.

As lockdown eases and we contemplate returning to semi-normality, management will undertake a risk assessment of our physical work spaces to ensure compliance with regulations and maintain wellbeing. So too, the management much reassess our emotional and cultural environments. Those companies and sectors that are able to be nimble, to adapt to robust and clear governance, and create a culture of speaking up without retribution will have the best chances of thriving.

It should not be a matter of fear or bravery for someone to come forward with information or concerns. Nor should it necessarily be, as in the US, for them to be incentivised by a financial reward.

An open culture must be embedded, accepted and encouraged as a norm, where the whistleblower is no longer deemed a traitor or a pariah. The whistleblower must become the chief executive’s best friend.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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