Despite codes of ethics and codes of conduct being increasingly part of most businesses’ cultural management strategy, they remain ineffective because hotlines simply don’t work. We now have 20 years of field research to show that employees don’t use them because they are either afraid that raising issues will impact negatively on them or they believe that nothing will change so why bother.

Organisations are therefore vulnerable to internal risk or illegal behaviour as it is employees – not the internal or external auditors – who are the first people to see risks. It pays big time to invest in promoting speak up cultures. To achieve this requires formal recognition of the power of the social life of your organisation. It is here, in this shared internal community life, that employees learn acceptable and non-acceptable ways of relating to each other. These ways can undermine formal codes and policies. Other key steps include:

1. Insisting the top team participate in any speak up initiative as their behaviour is the loudest message around the safety of raising concerns

2. Appeal to personal identity: Most people have a strong self-concept and self-identity that they are ethical. Employees rarely self-identify as part of the problem. Appealing to employees’ sense of personal identity is, therefore, a powerful lever for behaviour change

3. Build life Skills – values conflicts are inevitable, so forewarning employees to be alert to other stakeholder perspectives and the contextual pressures surrounding them will help offset defaulting to an “automatic pilot” decision making cultural norm

4. Train managers and employees in “speak up” skills to enable a shared organisational language around risk as a prerequisite to a speak up culture

5. Take a systems approach. Ideally, training is organised in cross sectional groups to enable employees to hear each others concerns and to amplify the usually silenced organisational social life where employees assumptions and needs are shaped. A whole of organisation approach also enables employees to see that everyone is being asked to change their behaviour. Speak up skills draw on the lessons from conflict management, mindfulness, behaviour science, Giving Voice To Values and assertiveness training.

6. Peer to peer accountability: It is critical that managers and leaders hold each other accountable to model the appropriate behaviour. Insist managers at every level develop action plans for what this will look like in their areas.

7. Embed in the organisation: What gets measured and rewarded, gets done. Align the existing reward and recognition systems to support the speak up cultural change program.

Ideally, speak up initiatives will be a cornerstone to your organisation living its stated values. Communicating in these positive terms and inviting employees to identify additional ways to raise issues that will work for them will build trust and restore confidence in the integrity of your Code of Conduct or Code of Ethics.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at

Would you like to bring business ethics in your company to the next level? Please fill out the form below to contact us.

    Your Name

    Your Email

    Your Subject

    Your Message