The Value of a Whistleblower
Roger, a good friend and an ethical individual, was at a business conference last week with a co-worker, Sam, who decided to take a few of his subordinates out for an evening of entertainment — entertainment not sanctioned by the company. The next day, as Sam was preparing to submit his receipts for his expense report, Roger noticed that he was submitting the receipts for his prior night’s activities. More importantly, Roger noticed that Sam’s description on the receipts was inaccurate. Sam flat-out lied on his expense report.
Roger wondered what would be the ethical thing to do. On one hand he could ignore what he saw and just let it pass, rationalizing that it was not his business. Or, he could confront Sam and encourage him to reconsider his choice, suggesting that following the ethics policy of his company would create better consequences. Or, lastly, Roger could comply with the company’s guidelines and report the ethical lapse.
The question isn’t what did Roger do. The question to consider is: “What would you do?”
If you chose the third option — the one that is expected as part of compliance with most organizational ethics guidelines — you would be labeled a whistleblower. Who wants to be called that? Snitch, tattletale and other negative words from childhood come to mind when someone is called a whistleblower. Yet, if your company or association is committed to creating a culture of ethical behavior, the term whistleblower is the No. 1 key to ethical success.
How Can That Be?
Statistics indicate that 42 percent of the time, someone “tipping off” an employer about an ethical lapse or potential fraud is the No. 1 way companies maintain ethics and prevent fraud. Amazing as it may seem, internal staff is the best police system for maintaining ethical behavior.
Most are amazed that it is that high; all too often we want to look the other way or are afraid to confront those committing ethical blunders. It’s easy to understand the hesitancy; many of us are afraid to rock the boat. Often, we fail to realize that the person committing an ethical blunder is putting the company in danger. So, how do we create a culture of ethical actions?
1. Recognize That Unethical Choices Never Start Large.
The “unethical continuum” is a natural progression of what many call a “slippery slope” of human action. This progression allows small infractions to go unnoticed or unreported until the day people or companies are in the midst of a full-fledged ethics disaster. Sam didn’t intend to act unethically; he felt that he was doing the right thing by treating his subordinates to something beyond the norm at the company function. His challenge was figuring out who would be responsible for the expense. The challenge with his ethical choice was a common problem: rationalization.
2. Understand the Three Components of Human Behavior that Lead to Ethical Lapses.
When a human makes a choice, any choice, there are typically three components that come together that allow a choice to be made and move forward: need, opportunity and rationalization. While, as employers we have little control of an individual’s need, we do have some level of control over the opportunity to make ethical choices and how one might rationalize behavior.