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Preventing Retaliation: It’s Time to Update Our Thinking

by Andrea Falcione, JD, CCEP

With everything going on in Washington D.C. right now, what an opportune time for the Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) to focus on whistleblowing and retaliation. Like catching lightning in a bottle, really.

Next week, I will have the pleasure of speaking – twice – at ECI’s Fall Best Practice Forum, Understanding and Preventing Retaliation in E&C. My co-presenters will include folks from the Government Accountability Project, King & Spaulding, the Department of Defense, and KPMG. Seems like I’ll be in good company! As a bonus, the keynote speaker is Tyler Schultz of Theranos whistleblower fame — how fascinating will that be??

During my first session, I’ll interview Dana Gold at the Government Accountability Project. (And, speaking of the shenanigans in D.C., I imagine Dana is quite busy these days. …) We’ll delve into the mind of the reporter: What motivates someone to come forward, and why should organizations consider a reporter’s motivations? In my opinion, investigators, HR, and compliance professionals don’t often put themselves in the reporter’s shoes. There’s much to be learned there — for the benefit of our investigations and our anti-retaliation measures.

On Day 2, four of us will focus on the preferred path of prevention and intervention: What can companies do to better prevent retaliation in the first place, and, if we see it happening, how can we best intervene to stop it? According to the ECI’s 2019 Global Business Ethics Survey, 83% of U.S. companies educate leaders about their anti-retaliation policies. Two thoughts on that number: First it should be 100%. Period. Next, I suspect that the vast majority of that 83% provide little more than a cursory mention of their “commitment to anti-retaliation” and that “retaliation will not be tolerated.” Think about your company’s training and awareness efforts in this area and then decide if my conclusion is the right one.

Good, effective education and communication is key in preventing retaliation. Look, there are bad apples in every organization — people who will misbehave and then retaliate against those who call them on it. But we also have to remember the “fight or flight” mechanism in all of us. If we really think critically about these messy issues, we might conclude that it’s human nature to “protect” oneself. If someone’s livelihood is threatened — even as a direct result of that person’s own misdeeds — retaliation may be more likely to occur than not, especially in its most subtle forms. And then there are those who just may not know what their responsibilities are in this area.

So, let’s all think about how to tackle the risk of retaliation — which will never, in fact, go away — differently. Consider your employees’ experiences and what messages they need to hear, as opposed to the messages you want to send them. And make an effort to train and communicate differently, in a way that will resonate, just like we have with this short but effective anti-retaliation texting video.

It’s time to make a change. Are you ready?

Don’t miss Andrea speaking at the Ethics & Compliance Initiative’s Fall Best Practice Forum! Use offer code RETHINK10 for 10% off at registration.

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