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Building a Speak-Up Culture: Three Keys to Success

29 August 2023
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A woman speaks with an HR professional about a concern.

Building a safe and inclusive culture requires intentional effort. It usually takes a top down-approach, which means it’s up to executive leadership and management to cultivate an environment in which every individual feels empowered to speak up and help maintain “good organizational hygiene.”

But what does it really mean to foster this kind of environment? What are some practical steps involved, and how can companies be proactive in managing risk and providing a safe workplace for all?

Our Learning and Talent Development Platform Evangelist, David Wentworth, chatted with legal expert Maria D’Avanzo at Traliant to find out. Maria has over 30 years of experience as an attorney, chief ethics and compliance officer, and chief privacy officer at financial institutions and publicly traded global organizations. She currently serves as the Chief Evangelist Officer and legal expert at Traliant. Keep reading for three key takeaways from David’s conversation with Maria, and check out the link below to watch a replay of the full webinar.

Communicate the Culture

According to Maria, a “speak-up culture” is one where employees feel comfortable raising concerns to their direct managers or other appropriate parties without fear of retribution. But to really put the concept into practice, senior leadership and management must lead by example.

Open and regular communication from HR, legal, and compliance teams is a critical component to a healthy and safe work environment. And while it takes time to build a speak-up culture, new employees should be introduced to an open company culture, security protocols, and the concept of whistleblowing at the start of their employment.

Maria suggests using the power of storytelling to get the message across. She often uses real-world examples of how situations were resolved when people were confident enough to say something—and what happened when people weren’t.

“It’s important to be practical and relatable, but a lot of the time, the most outrageous examples are the ones that really drive the message home”, says Maria. She includes examples with “shock value” during training sessions to engage employees more effectively. These are instances that are particularly extreme or unexpected, often involving outrageous scenarios or unusual behavior. The purpose of using such examples is to make the training content memorable and impactful.

Leverage Training to Strengthen the Culture

Onboarding and new hire training are the best points in the employee lifecycle to introduce the concept of whistleblowing. In her role at Traliant, Maria noticed customers asking for more training materials around psychological safety at work and the logistics around something like whistleblowing, so she created standalone courses that are quick and easy to comprehend.

“We understand that employees—especially those in certain roles—have to take a lot of training, so we don’t want to overwhelm them. We do, however, want to arm them with the information they need. A simple, straightforward 15-30 minute training session is enough to make people feel empowered and informed” she shares.

Mandatory training is even more important at larger organizations where siloed communication is likely to pose a bigger challenge. The training should be simple, accessible, and regularly updated to include relevant information. And while including these kinds of courses at the onset is essential, the message shouldn’t end once initial training is complete. Ongoing learning opportunities and regular communication from the appropriate authorities keep employees in the loop and encourage them to actively participate in the company culture.

Assess and Adjust Training Programs

As the conversation continued, Maria emphasized the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of training programs and initiatives. She suggests using “before and after assessments,” which involves gathering feedback from participants about the training at several intervals. This can help HR, legal, and compliance teams gauge how the training influences people’s understanding and perception of the company culture.

Through their learning management system (LMS), Maria and her teams track metrics like the number of attempts it takes learners to correctly answer assessment questions after training, as well as specific KPIs like the number of reports received from employees after training is administered.

“When I’d pull the data year over year, sometimes executives would express concerns around the increase in reports coming in from employees afterwards. They’d wonder if it’s a bad thing, but it’s a good thing! It means the training works and people feel they should speak up, which is exactly what we want them to do”, Maria shares. She recommends a combination of participant feedback and tracking engagement metrics through the LMS to uncover insights into the effectiveness of training programs and the company’s overall progress toward establishing a successful speak-up culture.

Maria’s insights underscore the necessity of creating an environment where employees can voice concerns without fear. A strong speak-up culture not only prevents misconduct but also empowers employees to contribute to organizational well-being. By implementing proper training, communication, and tracking mechanisms, companies can work toward fostering an atmosphere of transparency and accountability.

Click here to watch a replay of the full webinar, and to learn more about how an LMS can help your organization manage risk and strengthen company culture, connect with us today.

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