What motivates someone to speak up?
To break the silence?
Despite the well-documented cases of
corporate malfeasance brought to light by
internal reporters, the word “whistleblower”
still carries certain negativity.
Whistleblowing may evoke images
of individuals speaking behind
someone’s back, which is not
necessarily associated with honesty
and candor. Some people prefer
the term “reporter.” The words
“reporter” and “whistleblower” are
used interchangeably throughout
Many reporters choose to remain
anonymous, which can also be
misinterpreted by others. “Why don’t
these people show their faces?” “If what
they have to say is true, why do they
have to hide?” The answer is not always
The following story may explain, to
some extent, what goes on in someone’s
mind when faced with the dilemma
of reporting what is perceived to be
Reporters don’t always have the benefit of
a full picture
Years ago, an employee (let’s call her Alice)
advised through our ethics reporting hotline
that she had information possibly pointing
at significant ethical breaches. During our
exchanges, it became evident that Alice had
witnessed some questionable actions but was
uncertain whether to provide further evidence
or a statement. When I asked if she was
willing to meet confidentially to review the
evidence, Alice was hesitant.
Alice was not specifically concerned with
retaliation. Instead, she was well aware that
she only had a partial picture of the situation.
In this regard, although the optics of what
she was observing were not good, Alice also
understood that she did not have sufficient
information to determine if she was indeed
witnessing violations of policy.
She was concerned with being portrayed
in an unfavorable way if what she reported
was either (a) properly approved and handled
per standard procedures not known to her or
(b) condoned and accepted by the company as
the cost of doing business (which, fortunately,
was not the case).
In the mind of a whistleblower
» An internal reporter (or whistleblower) will always have a preconceived expectation about how the information he or
she provided will be used.
» The way you manage the initial contact will determine what the reporter can expect.
» The safest way to approach the initial communications with internal reporters is under the assumption that
everything you respond with could one day become public.
» You can set a tone of trust by advising the reporter that the information received will be investigated and that your
organization will not tolerate retaliation against internal reporters.
» Understanding that anonymous reporters might be motivated by different interests will help you keep your mind
open to assess, in an objective manner, the information you receive.
by Miguel Rueda, MBA, CCEP, CFE, CIA, CRMA