Overseeing the implementation of a whistleblowing hotline can be a difficult and uncertain experience – especially if it is something you’ve not been involved with before.

While your solution will be unique to your company’s circumstances, there are several key areas and questions that every organisation should look at as part of the planning process.

Here is a short checklist that will help you implement your whistleblowing hotline effectively.

1. Engage stakeholders

From the outset, you will benefit from identifying and engaging key stakeholders from across the business. They are likely to be drawn from the following areas:

  • Senior Management
  • Human Resources
  • Compliance
  • Legal
  • Marketing Communications
  • Works Council / Employee representative bodies

Together, you will need to agree what you want your hotline to achieve, and what ‘success’ will look like. As a group, you will also be able to address some of the other areas listed below.

2. Document the scope of your programme

With help from your stakeholder group, you should agree what ‘whistleblowing’ (or ‘speaking up’) is in the context of your organisation – and document it.

This will most likely take the form of a whistleblowing policy (or ‘charter’) that can be published and shared across your organisation, and with your customers and suppliers.

As part of this you should consider things like:

  • What types of issues you want to hear about
  • Which parts of the business it applies to, if not all
  • Whether suppliers and third parties are to be included

You will also need to investigate whether you are subject to any rules or restrictions that could affect your programme. Whistleblowing laws can differ from one country to another, while companies in certain sectors (eg. financial services) may have to follow specific rules.

3. Define your intake strategy

Once you know what the objectives are for your hotline, it’s time to begin thinking about how people will be able to raise their concerns.

Think about your users…

A good starting point is to better understand the intended users of your service.

  • What is their normal working environment (eg. office, construction site, shop floor, etc)?
  • Where are they based and what languages do they speak?
  • What is their most convenient means of communication?
  • Are there any physical or cultural obstacles to speaking up?

…then your intake process

Answering the above will equip you with the knowledge you need to tackle the following questions about your hotline:

  • What intake channels should it include (eg. web, phone, app, etc)?
  • Does it need to be available out of hours, or account for different timezones?
  • Do multiple language options need to be offered?
  • Should it be administered internally, by an independent provider, or a combination of the two?

A successful hotline will reflect the needs and preferences of users, and eliminate as many barriers to reporting as possible.

4. Decide how you will handle reports

Receiving a report is just the the start of the process – you will also have to think carefully about how you handle the reports you receive.

The decisions you make at this stage will be shape the overall experience of people that use the service. Key areas to consider should include:

  • Who will receive reports?
  • How will reports be processed?
  • How will you investigate cases?
  • What will your feedback process be (during and after the investigation)?
  • How will you protect all parties (discloser and accused), and prevent retaliation?

Once agreed, your procedure should be documented (ideally in summary form) within your whistleblowing policy.

5. Plan your communications and rollout

Many ‘ineffective’ hotlines are actually fit for purpose – but victims of bad promotion.

The way your hotline is positioned and promoted will influence not just awareness, but trust and confidence levels too. You should think about things like:

  • ‘Tone from the top’ – are senior management fully engaged?
  • Promotion channels – do they reflect your audience?
  • Accessibility – how can you ensure contact details are easy to find?
  • Branding – what label/name will you use, and will it be independent or ‘on brand’?
  • Messaging – how will you show that speaking up is a positive, safe thing to do?

It is also important to plan future communications to ensure awareness remains high at all times – not just around the launch date.

When it comes to ‘roll out’, your stakeholder group will to be invaluable. Use them to help you plan the implementation, promote the service and relay initial feedback.

If you have chosen to work with an independent whistleblowing service provider, they should be able to provide marketing materials and guidance to help to launch your service successfully.

6. Measure and monitor

Once your hotline is up and running, all you need to do is sit back and wait for the reports to flood in…right?

If only it were that easy. You’ll no doubt have a few issues to overcome, and it’s likely you will hear anecdotal feedback about people’s initial thoughts (scepticism and suspicion are not uncommon reactions).

After a reasonable period of time, refer back to the success measures you outlined at the start of the process to determine whether the hotline is delivering the results you expected. If it’s not, you might consider:

  • Running an employee survey to gain feedback
  • Discussing your experience with peers from other organisations
  • Comparing benchmarking data with your results
  • Checking your promotional strategy is engaging your audiences

It is still worth taking these steps even if your hotline is performing at or above expectations. Pursuing ongoing improvements will not only improve the service for users, but demonstrate your organisation’s commitment to making it easier to speak up.