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Summary of City of London breakfast briefing: Fostering a positive speak up, listen up culture

THE City of London Corporation hosted a breakfast briefing on best practice speak up/listen up arrangements with presentations by Protect Chief Executive Francesca West and Banking Standards Board Senior Behavioural Scientist Kate Coombs.

Opening the briefing, Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the Policy & Resources Committee at the City of London Corporation, said, ’Integrating positive speak up arrangements allow individuals to call out bad behaviour….how can we ensure trust is re-established in the financial sector and ask the public to trust the sector if employees don’t trust the sector?’

Catherine went on to tell delegates from varied sectors including finance, transport, manufacturing and retail amongst others that more work was needed which should be a priority for all of us. She mentioned the revised UK Corporation Governance Code published by the FRC which places the onus on board members to establish good speak up and listen arrangements and culture.

Kate Coombs went on to give a fascinating insight into the findings from the BSB Annual Review 2018/19, an exercise designed to inform, support and challenge banks and building societies to raise standards of behaviour and which looks at the experiences of employees who raise concerns internally within their own firms. Kate explained the reasons for people not coming forward with concerns were varied, from a lack of trust in the process, worries that confidentiality would be breached, to reputational risk from speaking out.

Protect’s Chief Executive Francesca West gave an overview to delegates of the work Protect does supporting whistleblowers and organisations with their whistleblowing culture, saying, ’93% or organisations tell us they have whistleblowing arrangements in place, but employees less high up the tree often feel these are ineffective.’

Francesca shared with delegates details of Protect’s 360 Benchmark, a tool to test the effectiveness of whistleblowing arrangements pinpointing strong and weak areas for organisations.

There was some interesting discussion around speak up/ethical apps being developed with varying views from delegates, with some thinking they were good, whilst others expressed caution as they can be seen to remove open discussion and create a ‘drop and run’ culture.

Mirza Baig from Aviva Investors told delegates, raising concerns is front and centre for organisations, adding, “As an investor, we will not invest in a company if we have deep reservations over its culture.”

Mirza went on to explain the ‘difficulties of seeing ‘beneath the bonnet’ with some organisations and often the sense of culture is only revealed when its too late.

Delegates were then asked to debate various issues such as what would help employees feel trusted to speak up and improve managers competency when handling concerns:

Table discussion feedback:

  • It’s not just speaking up, but listening up too
  • Reporting on numbers alone is easier but not very meaningful – narrative helps give context to a rise/lowering of cases for qualitative reports for stakeholders
  • Sharing good news and in what way is key
  • Language is key – do you know your people? Avoid overly legal language
  • Best practice ways of starting conversations
  • Can we learn from the airline industry which has a no blame culture and all mistakes are seen as something to learn from?
  • Offering more support for managers – how are you equipping them to handle concerns and cope with the concerns they are handling
  • Think about messaging eg in performance appraisals make sure speak up features as well as financial targets to be reached
  • Encourage open conversations eg Take a headline to work initiative to encourage debate about raising concerns
  • Listen up training
  • Responding to staff who have raised concerns – consider telling them upfront what they will be able  to receive in terms of feedback rather than no response at all
  • Get your internal reporting right and external reporting will follow suit