How to get the most out of a whistleblower program

It can be most effective method of uncovering unethical behaviour but only if you lay the groundwork, says one fraud investigator.

How to get the most out of a whistleblower program
Whistleblower hotlines are the most effective method of uncovering unethical behaviour yet many businesses that have implemented one still aren’t feeing the full range of benefits – but why? Here, one leading fraud investigator offers his advice.

“If your company's whistleblower hotline isn't generating the results you'd like—say, it's not receiving any calls at all—there are some things you can do to ensure a higher ROI,” says Sandy Boucher, of Canadian accounting and advisory firm Grant Thornton. “But first, you need to get to the root of the problem, by asking a few in-depth questions.

Does your company culture value integrity?

“One of the top reasons employees don't come forward to report internal wrongdoing is because they don't believe management will do anything about it,” says Boucher.

“Setting the tone from the top is a sure-fire way to earn your employees' trust and let them know management is serious about addressing any wrongdoing that is uncovered,” he continues. “One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by establishing formal processes and procedures—regarding both the investigation of whistleblower reports and the remediation of unethical acts.”

Boucher is a specialist in the fraud and corruption field and divides his time between investigating cases and advising organizations on how to prevent them in the first place – he says that without the right environment, processes and systems in place, employees are more inclined to report through alternative channels such as the media, the internet or regulatory bodies which will all lead to more trouble in the long run.

Is the process easy and anonymous?

Sadly, the perception remains that whistleblowers are just angry employees with an axe to grind, when in reality, they’re often just trying to do the right thing.

“This perception means that, without the proper measures in place, individuals who speak up could face severe repercussions—deterring them from coming forward at all,” says Boucher. “That's why it's important to ensure whistleblower hotlines are anonymous—and that your company fosters a ‘speak up environment.’”

Do your employees even know about it?

“A lot of the time, whistleblower hotlines aren't used—or are used incorrectly—simply because the merits of the program weren't effectively communicated to the team,” reveals Boucher.

“Whether you're rolling out a new program—or on-boarding new employees—it's important to clearly explain the purpose of the program, what it entails and why it holds a position of high importance within the company,” he continues.

Accoring to Toronto-based Boucher, most people don't report wrongdoing within their company for one of two reasons – either they don’t trust management to react or they believe the consequences to them far outweigh the value of trying to do the right thing.

“If you establish a whistleblower program that addresses these two deterrents, you will likely start getting calls alerting you to activities you might otherwise never uncover,” he says.

“This will allow your organization to not only minimize losses resulting from fraud, but also enable you to respond to internal unethical acts swiftly—before they damage your company's reputation, as well.”
The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) recently issued a guideline sponsored by Grant Thornton that outlines how an effective whistleblower program should be structured—including planning considerations, potential outcomes and implementation tips—to make sure whistleblowers will not be punished for their actions.

Click here to read Boucher’s full and original article.

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