Speak Up! Listen Up! Take action!
On the sixth anniversary of ICAS’ business ethics initiative, The Power of One, Ann Buttery, Head of Ethics, ICAS Policy Leadership, introduces new guidance published by ICAS which focuses on the importance of organisations ‘listening’ to their employees.
There is a need to promote the right behaviours and culture within organisations to ensure long-term sustainability. Organisations that operate ethically ultimately benefit from a long-term competitive advantage - people want to work for them and people want to do business with them.
As discussed in ICAS’ Speak Up? Listen Up? Whistleblow? research, whistleblowing and ‘speak up’ mechanisms are vitally important for the long-term success of organisations. Individuals throughout organisations should be encouraged and empowered to have the confidence to ‘speak up’ if they encounter ethical issues, to promote good behaviour and to influence others. A speak up culture allows issues to be dealt with at the earliest opportunity before they escalate. If a problem is left to fester, the potential harm that could be caused increases. Ultimately, ‘turning a blind eye’ could lead to reputational ruin for an organisation.
Speaking up should be viewed as beneficial by organisations, rather than being regarded as troublesome. It should be embedded - ‘normal’ - within an organisation to speak up. But speaking up is not always easy or appreciated. People fear retaliation, negative consequences on their career or their remuneration, and worry about what people might think of them. They also fear organisational inaction. If people feel that speaking up would be futile, that their concerns are just going to be ignored, or not followed up, perhaps because they, or others, have had a poor response from the organisation in the past, they will not put themselves at risk to report.
This ICAS guidance focuses on the importance of organisations ‘listening’ to their employees in order to counter their fears and provides some practical suggestions on ‘speaking up’ and ‘listening up’, both for individual CAs and for organisations.
The guidance highlights that organisations need their people to ‘speak up’ if they have concerns, but employees need to feel safe and be able to trust in the authenticity of the ‘speak up’ mechanism to be encouraged to speak up. In return for an employee having the courage to speak up for the good of the organisation, organisations have a responsibility to their employees to listen and then act on what has been heard by investigating the issue. People need to know that the raising of concerns is appreciated by the organisation, will be given appropriate consideration and will be acted upon. They need to know that change does happen.
Speaking up will be ineffective if nobody listens and, crucially, ‘listening’ also needs to lead to action with leaders investigating the issues raised. It is ‘effective listening’ by leaders at all levels – listening followed by action – which is critical to the success of a speak up programme within an organisation, and ultimately the success of the organisation itself.
ICAS ethics resources
ICAS is committed to providing ethics resources and support to its Members. Since 2015, ICAS has published a series of publications, guidance and resources as part of the Power of One initiative which are all available on icas.com.
In November 2020, to mark the fifth anniversary of The Power of One, ICAS issued second editions of its series of publications on ethical leadership:
- Ethics -The Power of One
- The Power of One – Personal responsibility and ethical leadership
- The Power of One – Moral Courage
- The Power of One – Personal Reputation
- The Power of One – Organisational culture and values
- The Power of One – The CA and the organisation
- The Ethical Journey – The Right, the Good and the Virtuous
ICAS also offers the following:
- guidance on conflict of interest;
- an ethical decision making framework;
- ethics videos;
- case studies, including CAs’ real-life ethical dilemmas featured within the ICAS research publication Speak up? Listen Up? Whistleblow?; and
From 1 January 2021, compulsory ethics CPD is introduced for all ICAS Members. This does not involve compulsory attendance at courses or the purchase of material – it could simply mean some reading of ethics-related material available online. In addition to ICAS’ own ethics resources as noted above, other websites provide useful sources of information as explained here.
If you have an ethical query, including a query on the provisions within the Code of Ethics in relation to values of equality, diversity and inclusion, ICAS offers an ethics helpline service.
ICAS is also partnered with whistleblowing charity Protect to provide Members and Students with access to an independent, confidential helpline. This service offers free advice regarding whistleblowing and speaking up.