One of the stories told of Toyota in terms of their constant quest for quality was that any member of their production line was free to press the “Stop” button – without fear of recrimination.
One of the biggest problems that organizations face is developing a compliance culture where it’s okay for any member of staff, at any time, to stick up their hand and say that something is wrong.
It’s easy to see why staff are slow to step forward. They may fear that they’ll look silly in front of their colleagues or their boss. Or perhaps they feel that they’re “dropping someone in it.” Another fear is that they’ll become known as a tell tale or snitch. Then there’s the fact that they might have to write up a lengthy report. And what if they should lose a big client for their employer?
It’s important to stress that the majority of employees have no problem in putting their hand up when they see something that is absolutely and definitively wrong. If a colleague strikes another, for example, it’s a straightforward case of bullying. But what if the bullying behavior is more subtle – and perhaps involving emotional rather than physical force?
To foster a culture of coming forward, many organizations have a confidential hotline in place, which lets them measure and compare the level of staff reporting. And while this is a good thing, it falls far short of developing an active culture of speaking up – where there’s no stigma attached and no recrimination.
One of the ways in which such a compliance culture can be fostered is by rewarding “near misses,” celebrating this as a potential disaster averted rather than focusing on the negatives of the situation. Another strategy is to reward people for their vigilance – even if it transpires that they’re wrong.
The ultimate objective should be to engender an atmosphere of “checking on each other” and positioning this as a good and healthy thing, rather than “snooping.” By way of analogy, you’d be delighted if somebody checked your parachute before you jumped, and you wouldn’t regard the inspector as some sort of busybody.
The message that needs to come across is that what your organization does is too important not to have extreme levels of vigilance. You can help promote corporate compliance culture in a number of ways – anything from coaching to team talks, or even a formal rewards program.
It has to be acknowledged that this type of culture goes against the grain for many individuals. As a society, we’re frequently groomed to “keep your head down” and say nothing. Against this background, it’s more important than ever that organizations work consistently and proactively toward bringing about a genuine corporate cultural change.
The benefits of such a change are enormous. For both the individual and the organization, speaking up is not just an opportunity to prevent a wrongdoing in the workplace – it’s also an opportunity to learn something about preventing a recurrence.