Hotline for Improvements

hotline-tall_red_k6_phone_box

I overheard at a recent compliance meeting about the possibility of using the whistleblower hotline to also solicit comments for improvements to the operations of your company.

Those of you with active hotlines you probably get enough false positives coming through (HR, workplace disputes, …) that you probably don’t want anything else coming in. But employees and other stakeholders may use a hotline to report any issue that makes them uncomfortable. For example, complaints regarding discrimination and sexual harassment are high-liability issues that need to be addressed. Turning away these calls because the hotline is “for Sarbanes-Oxley Complaints Only” may alienate an employee who has made the difficult decision to take action.

But if your hotline is underused, the anonymity feature could be useful as a suggestions box.

If something is bothering them in the workplace, even if it not a high-liability issues, could come through the hotline. To spin it around, profitability and cost reduction suggestions could come through the hotline.

What do you think?

Image is by oyxman and made available through Wikimedia Commons: Tall Red K6 Phone Box.jpg.

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4 Responses to Hotline for Improvements

  1. Bill Piwonka April 21, 2009 at 2:20 pm #

    Disclaimer – EthicsPoint is a provider of Hotlines and Case Management solutions.

    Doug,
    Even if I didn’t work for EthicsPoint I would argue that hotlines should not be confined to just a subset of issues (eg “Sarbanes-Oxley Complaints only). And I’d clarify your post a bit:
    1) the hotline should be a part of your overall efforts to ensure a culture of integrity and compliance and mitigate risks. HR issues (discrimination, harassment, etc.) can pose huge risks to your organization if there is a systemic problem and class action suits are filed. Similarly, an instance of a badge and access violation may be an indication of a bigger theft or fraud problem, an unsafe working condition may be replicated across your plants, a manager forcing workers to clock out while still on the job may bring govt fines, etc. In many cases these incidents will be reported directly to a manager or other supervisor, but when an observer fears retribution, a hotline can be another source for detection.
    And limiting calls to the hotline for a specific category doesn’t limit other types of misconduct – it only limits your ability to capture reports of it.
    2) As far as soliciting ideas for improvement,while I think it’s a good idea, and the technology definitely would support it, I can see why many organizations would not wnat to include that information in their system.

    • Doug Cornelius April 21, 2009 at 3:15 pm #

      Bill –

      Thanks for your thoughts. This idea may have originated during one of the excellent webcasts that EthicsPoint sponsors.

      To me, one of the keys for management is how to engage frontline workers for suggestions and ideas about how to improve operation at the company. At the minimum, I think workers will feel more engage if they know that someone is listening, even if the company does not undertake the suggestion.

      It does change the skill set required for the people responding to the hotline. There would now be another element of what to do with this information and this new line of communication. It seems that a tool like EthicsPoint could help organize and analyze that information.

      There is also a larger question of whether management really wants to hear back from its workers. There are some that don’t.

  2. Bill Piwonka April 21, 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    Doug,
    I totally agree with you regarding the value soliciting this kind of feedback delivers. And with the right technology – like EthicsPoint – you can automate the workflow so suggestions are directed to the appropriate person in the company. In fact, in our own internal use of the EthicsPoint system, we have it set up to allow employees/partners/other stakeholders the ability to not only file a report, but also to ask a question regarding ethics or compliance or to recognize someone who acted with uncompromising integrity – especially when it might have been easier to not have done so.
    From a personal view, I’d argue that a management team that doesn’t want to hear from employees is not doing it’s fiduciary duty to the shareholders. Take a look at the graph that accommpanied the recent publication of Ethisphere’s Most Ethical Companies to see how shareholder value is enriched when business acts with integrity and treats employees respectfully (not to mention the decreased costs of lower turnover, lower fraud, higher productivity) etc that accrue to companies with happy employees