Tag Archives: report

Creating a Speak-up Culture in the Workplace

speak upMission-based agencies – nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, charities, government offices, schools, etc. – are often thought of as being in the business of doing good rather than the business of making money. We like to believe, therefore, that such programs are naturally, inherently good, righteous, even superior. We like to believe that, at such programs, everyone – employees, consultants, volunteers and program participants – is on the same page when it comes to honest practices and integrity.

However, the reality is that such agencies are run by humans, and humans suffer lapses in ethics, common sense and judgment. Humans are fallible and, therefore, mission-based organizations are fallible.

I don’t know of many nonprofits or government programs that make ethics a written, central priority to their operational strategy. According to the Ethics and Compliance Initiative, research shows that such a practice can reduce misconduct “by as much as 66 percent in organizations with effective programs,” as noted in this article “Before the Whistle Blows: Creating a Speak-up Culture at Work,” from August 2016 in Workforce magazine. Yes, the author is talking about for-profit businesses, but I can’t imagine anything in this article isn’t also applicable, and essential, to the mission-based world.

The subtitle of the article is “Creating an environment in which employees feel empowered to speak up when they suspect wrongdoing starts at the top.” I would love to go to an entire workshop on this subject, and see such workshops offered at any and all conferences for managers of volunteers and conferences regarding any kind of nonprofit management.

From the article:

Creating a “speak-up” culture puts a premium on ethical decision-making across the board with responsibility shared by all. But setting the tone and promoting that culture rests squarely on the shoulders of organizational leaders. Their endorsement and modeling create an atmosphere of openness and trust that reassures employees who are understandably anxious about coming forward, whether out of fear of being let go or fear of being ostracized. Leaders who take employee concerns seriously and follow through send a strong message about integrity.

That should be a wake-up call to all senior staff at mission-based organizations. How many of you have communicated your views to your staff regarding ethical behavior?

The heart of how to create such a speak-up culture is this, at least IMO:

Make sure that managers and supervisors receive thorough training in how to respond to and guide employees who come forward. These sessions may also expand to include full team training with hypothetical scenarios or case studies. Simultaneously, the organization ensures that the ethics and compliance policy is clear on how violations are identified and acted upon. Employees must know what constitutes misconduct within the organization and at what point it should be reported. From there, employees need to know the methods available for speaking up. A high quality ethics program will have multiple methods for reporting concerns.

The profound failures at Penn State to address reports of suspicions of crimes against children and to warn people if their safety might be threatened, all regarding former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, convicted of child molestation while working at Penn State, should give every organization pause. There was no “speak up” culture at Penn State, and not just within the athletic program. I remain flabbergasted as I read about the case – and I read extensively about it – that people did not report what they saw, or if they did report, those who received the information did not act appropriately about it. And I wish I could say it was the exception, but I quiz organizations about their reporting procedures regarding suspected misconduct and, more often than not, find they do not have such. Many will say, in their defense of not having any procedure, “Well, we haven’t had any problems!” And I say, “So far.”

Every organization is different in how it should set up methods for reporting suspicion of misconduct or unsafe conditions, for response to such and for follow-up. In addition to getting legal advice on how it should be done, creating procedures can be a terrific exercise for employees and volunteers – they will be buying in to it by designing it. But you have to create a trusting environment where participants feel comfortable asking questions and discussing sensitive topics, such as what they think they should do if they:

  • hear a client telling a joke that is racist or sexist to a staff member
  • have seen an employee, consultant, volunteer or client use an organization’s device and/or Internet access to visit pornography sites
  • know a staff member is taking equipment home without permission
  • learn that an adult volunteer frequently texting with an under-aged teen volunteer
  • suspect an adult volunteer at your organization is dating a minor he or she met through your organization

How will you create that trusting environment? That’s the subject of another blog.

Also see:

New report NOT by me re: microvolunteering

At long last, someone that is not me has conducted a fact-based, non-hype review of micro volunteering, and not just from the volunteers’ point of view, but from the volunteer-involving organizations point of view as well. Hurrah!

Published by the Institute for Volunteering Research and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the report, The value of giving a little time Understanding the potential of micro-volunteering, is focused on United Kingdom-based efforts, but is applicable to other countries regarding what micro volunteering really looks like, and what it takes for it to be successful.

Do I agree with everything in the report? No. For instance, the writers don’t believe micro volunteering is episodic volunteering; I’m adamant that it is. The writers include offline activities within their definition of micro volunteering, something that is a very new way of thinking. But every researcher has to define the parameters of their study, and I respect how they’ve chosen to define the practice, even if I don’t agree with it 100%.

And is it micro volunteering, microvolunteering, or micro-volunteering? I just do whatever spell check tells me…

That said, it’s a good report and worth your time to read, particularly if you are skeptical of the idea of micro volunteering. My favorite part was part 6, “What are the challenges of micro- volunteering?” It’s the part of the report that breaks new ground, because (1) it admits that there ARE real challenges to creating micro tasks and involving volunteers in those tasks, something people promoting micro volunteering to date have been reluctant to admit, and (2) it offers a detailed list of those real challenges, and a start on how they might be addressed.

I have managed probably hundreds of online volunteers in micro volunteering projects – though it didn’t have a snazzy name for most of the years I did so. In September 2013, I blogged at TechSoup about what it’s like to manage its micro volunteering initiative, Donate Your Brain, pointing out just how much time and effort it takes to look for micro volunteering opportunities in relation to the TechSoup community forum. I’d like to see others that are creating micro volunteering tasks and supporting the volunteers in them do this as well: talk about what it REALLY takes!

I have to say that Table 3 in the report, “Are organisations experiencing the benefits of micro-volunteering?”, made me laugh out loud – it reads oh-so-much like the benefits of virtual volunteering for organizations that was written back in the 1990s!

Here’s more of my own recommendations regarding micro volunteering. And in January 2014, The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook will be published, and it includes practical guidelines on how to create micro tasks for volunteers, and how to support volunteers in those tasks. But more information, and voices, are needed! We need more, real research that answers these questions, in detail:

  • What does successful micro volunteering look like for an organization? I don’t mean just a list of tasks; how do they measure success? What measurable impact does engaging with volunteers in micro tasks look like, for the organization and those it serves?
  • How much time and other investment, in detail, is required by the organization to create successful micro volunteering that makes the investment of time and effort by the organization worth it?

Let’s hope that national institutes that study community engagement, as well as traditional volunteer centers, will, at last, embrace micro volunteering (and all virtual volunteering, for that matter) and start including it in their studies, workshops, publications and trainings.

With all that said, and as much as I really do like this report, the reality is that not every organization is going to be able to create micro tasks for micro volunteering. Just as not every organization can, or should, create opportunities for family volunteers, or other group volunteers. Not every task can be altered so that any volunteer can do it. Not every task can be done by episodic volunteers – sometimes, the best person for a task or role is a long-term volunteer who can give a substantial amount of time every month. Different tasks require different kinds of staffing. And all volunteering, including micro volunteering, takes real time – let’s NOT say it’s perfect for people that don’t have time to volunteer, because it DOES take real time, even if it’s just a few minutes.

The challenge isn’t creating micro tasks for volunteers; the much greater challenge is supporting those charged with supporting volunteers at organizations large and small with the resources they need to create all of these different avenues for volunteer engagement. Are you ready to fund and equip your manager of volunteers with the resources he or she needs to make this a reality?