Trust is the foundation of any and every Speak Up programme – without trust, there is no programme.

So, if it is as easy and simple as that, why do we face so many challenges in implementing a system that allows our people to speak up first time, every time?

Firstly, you cannot have one without the other. Building trust takes time, and until you have proved your commitment to doing the right thing – investigating fully, feeding back and ensuring there is no detriment suffered by the worker speaking up – there is a risk that wrongdoing within your organisation will continue unchecked.

Speak Up, Listen Up, Follow Up

One of the biggest barriers to receiving information from your people is fear of retribution. This feels like a good place to start in building trust and faith in your system. Messaging has to come from the top down and has to be reinforced, followed up, spoken about and evidenced by leaders, managers and boards.

Providing an outlet to speak up about wrongdoing is only the first stage within an effective system. Equally important is to ensure that adequate time and attention is given to listening and understanding what you are being told and why. Understand that the individual who has taken the enormous step to come forward will very often feel vulnerable and you might only get one chance to fully appreciate what you are being told.

Outlining your process in terms of recording, investigating, reporting and feeding back is critical to ensure that the contact knows what to expect – this is your first shot at trust.

Aftercare – why so important?

You have to demonstrate your commitment to integrity and follow up where, and when you have indicated you will if you are to establish trust. Developing an aftercare programme is a huge indicator of this commitment and should be carefully considered. Any such programme should be designed to ensure that the person has not suffered detriment – and both sides should ensure that they understand what detriment is and how it can manifest itself.

Reaching out proactively in a confidential manner on more than one occasion, with the aim of continuing to support, establishing detriment and learning how to improve your process, is a unique opportunity. At SSE we aim for month three and month six after someone has reported a matter – which coincidentally ties with proposed legislation. When you say you won’t tolerate retaliation, prove what you state and follow up. In terms of building trust, this is a huge step.


Going hand-in-hand with trust is transparency – not just to the person speaking up as outlined above, but to your entire workforce. We want people to come forward and do the right thing at the earliest opportunity so that we can support them, investigate and put an end to any nefarious activity. The quicker we can do this, the healthier an organisation we are. It is important to understand that having a good speak up platform is not an indicator of the health of an organisation. Nor is the usage rates as these are incredibly difficult to benchmark. The indicator lies in the proportion of your people who indicate they are prepared to speak up should they become aware of wrongdoing.

Therefore, we have to tell the story. Our numbers should be publicised, and our system consistently well marketed to our people top-down and bottom-up. The people chosen to operate and involved in the processing of information and subsequent investigations should be carefully selected to ensure their integrity is beyond reproach and they are viewed well within the organisation.

The development of a trusted speak up platform is not an immediate process. The implementation can be quick, the marketing can be done by saying all the right things, but trust takes time to build.

Even once you become established, you have to get it right, first time every time. Failing your workers is not an option. You may find yourself back at square one with a task infinitely harder than you started with.

Without trust, you don’t have an effective system and you won’t get the information you need to protect yourselves and your people. Without trust you have nothing.

This article features in the August edition of Freedom to Speak Up News