Podcast: Better Whistleblower Reporting

It’s time for another Radical Compliance podcast, this week discussing how compliance officers can improve the mechanisms they use for whistleblower reporting — a subject that could not be more timely, given that casino magnate Steve Wynn just lost his job over harassment allegations.

Our guest is Scott LaVictor, CEO of Neighborhood Watch for Corporations. His firm has been developing an app to help employees report harassment in a way that’s secure and anonymous for them, but also useful for compliance officers. You can hear the whole conversation (13 minutes) above. Meanwhile, let me recap a few key points here.

First, appreciate the tension in whistleblower reporting: employees want anonymity, while compliance officers want precision. Somehow the technology of the whistleblower reporting channel has to bridge that gap.

More traditional reporting channels don’t necessarily score well on that goal. For example, a telephone hotline might offer anonymity, but an employee who leaves a recorded message might omit crucial details. An employee who calls a hotline staffed by actual people might feel uncomfortable disclosing details of an encounter. (That’s all the more likely for misconduct as invasive as sexual harassment.)

“People are looking for meaningful engagement, and they’re not making phone calls any more,” LaVictor said. “So now you’re building the case for something new.”

Second, wise use of technology can address that reporting tension. LaVictor described his goal as “digitizing the interview experience.” That’s how compliance officers should perceive the issue, too.

Digital reporting channels preserve the anonymity that whistleblowers want, and still allow compliance officers to extract the details they need. All you need to do is pre-program the app to elicit the details you need — and with artificial intelligence progressing so quickly, that programming can get quite sophisticated.

Compliance officers will need to anticipate the types of complaints you might get, and what information you’d want to know. For example, an employee might call a telephone hotline and leave a recorded message, “I saw my boss bribing some guy $500 the other day!” An app could be programmed to ask:

  • What is your boss’s title?
  • Had he met with the other person before?
  • What time of day did the meeting happen?

Questions like that can help an investigator match details to employee schedules, to find the offending manager. An employee might not know that, or forget to include them in an anonymous email or phone call. An app can easily steer the employee to offer more detail, while still preserving his or her privacy.

Third, as I’ve said before, it’s all about the metrics you can extract from a report. Yes, the substance of a specific report — “that supervisor pulled his pants down at the sales conference!” — is crucial, but more for the HR or legal team to conduct an investigation.

whistleblower reportingFor a chief compliance officer running a whole program, the paramount need is to understand the broad nature of misconduct happening within your organization. That is, if all your supervisors keep declaring a no-pants half hour at all the sales conferences, year after year, you have a problem in corporate culture, training, and discipline processes.

So even as an app elicits useful details from an employee for one specific investigation, you can aggregate all the data for a useful analysis at the compliance program level — again, if you configure your whistleblower and internal reporting systems wisely, so all the data you collect can be aggregated and analyzed in bulk.

Is Neighborhood Watch for Corporations the only firm thinking along these lines? Not at all. Eventually, I suspect, all our whistleblower reporting channels will be driven by software, which means they’ll all be apps — on our phones, iPads, desktop computers, or whatever other technology comes next.

It’s more about how to construct apps that work for employees who want to submit a report and for compliance officers who want to extract intelligence from all reports to build a better compliance program. The tech may need some time, but we’ll get there.

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