Reflection three: Who “blows the whistle?”

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The answer is: a whistle-blower. Disgusting, would say some of you, especially my readers who come from the post-soviet space! Great, I say, keeping in mind my corporate experience.

Importance of the internal communication for a business became fully understandable to me only during my work for a transnational company.

Before that I was a part of the “disgusting” camp, thinking that “whistleblowing” is a terrible idea.

Big companies, having a bunch of employees, of different nationalities, operating worldwide, definitely have to implement some best practices with an emphasis on cross-cultural differences. And here they usually end up by implementing  Standards of Business Conduct in order to set high standards of business integrity for its employees worldwide. “Titans” can’t afford to make mistakes which would negatively influence the corporate image and consequently drop the price of their stocks on the stock exchange market. That is why Standards of Business Conduct, which usually include some tools of internal communication, play a key role in the corpotrate strategy.

Among confidentiality and information security, human rights and conflict of interest Standards of Business Conduct would include whistleblowing concept and procedure. It has a strong connection with company’s internal communication. Still whistleblowing is probably the most controversial tool of internal communication. On the one hand, it is a tool of internal communication allowing any employee to raise concerns regarding an illegal or unethical practice in the workplace, which can include but not limited to: criminal acts, including theft, fraud, bribery and corruption; harassment in the workplace; other human rights abuses; accounting malpractice; or falsifying documents. On the other hand, people internally do not like whistleblowing, or even consider it unethical, because when someone “blows the whistle,” it could be actually only an opinion of this person. I think that in general people do not like “whistleblowers.”

As I’ve mentioned, I had the same internal struggle myself at the time when this procedure was discussed and drafted in my company. Is whistleblowing good or bad? Ethical or unethical? Moral or immoral? And what if it becomes a tool of war between employees? The conclusions I came to are the following:

  1. Whistleblowing aiming to end an unethical/illegal behavior is ethical, because people have a moral obligation to prevent serious harm to others if they can.
  2. Whistleblowing works if people are honest. Therefore, the organization has to promote honesty, transparent structures, and effective, clear communication. This will also help to change the perception of whistleblowers by other colleagues.
  3. In general, people are afraid to speak up. The company has to ensure confidentiality for whistleblowers by implementing a clear procedure of whistleblowing, including designated officers who can receive the concerns or by giving freedom to choose another person, such as their line manager or HR manager, in case the whistleblower trusts such a person more.
  4. Fear of being mistaken can often stops employees from taking action. The company has to adopt a no reprisals policy, which means the whistleblower will not suffer any form of reprisal for raising a concern about actual or suspected wrongdoing, even if he or she is mistaken.
  5. Employees have to be involved in the internal communications of the company by giving feedback, participating in briefings, providing news for the internal bulletin, giving presentations, etc. In such case they will feel more comfortable raising their concerns.

I understand it’s an opinion, and you might have a different one. Also, I know that whistleblowing may have negative aspects, and I’ve read about several cases which show the “ugly” face of whistleblowing. I can imagine, however, perhaps people had the similar debates about the presumption of innocence “helping” criminals to escape justice or the abolition of the death penalty encouraging serious crimes. There are always pros and cons, but hopefully the promotion of an open and honest culture would drastically reduce, if not eliminate, false whistleblowing.

My personal belief is that if whistleblowing is incorporated as a natural part of the internal corporate communications system, it can be transformed into an extremely valuable aid in creating positive work environment, allowing employees to focus on the success of the organization and its members. What do you think? Just take a moment and reflect on this topic.

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Reflection two: How did I learn about nodding dogs, birds, rabbits and cockroaches and started liking “fishing.”

AI_20191109_0039_small      Back in 2010 when I first started working in a transnational company I felt like “Alice through the looking glass.” It looked to me like some kind of fantastic world where everything had a different logic than I was used to, and presentations were one of those things. Most of the corporate communication was in Power Point (PPT), so I had to understand its power and to start successfully using it, because in a corporation PPT shows if you belong there or not.

In 2011 I was sent to London to improve my presentation skills by learning SCQuARE methodology. “Gosh, I thought! I learned how to work in PPT, insert pictures, graphics, animation. What else do I have to learn?” The answer was: “To get thinking skills to be able to break down problems or opportunities, determine the right solutions and then put it all back together into a compelling story.” So, I learned SCQuARE, where:

  • “S” is the starting-point, settings, “So What?” It provides the relevant setting and context for the reminder of your plan. Here you want to see from the audience the body language of a “nodding dog.” You want everyone agreeing and this is the key point of alignment, nothing controversial.
  • “C” is changes, complications, causes, and consequences. These are the reasons you are preparing the plan. And at this stage you have to “cage any birds.” Birds are the ideas that go flying around the room that you should have closed-off and keep these birds in a cage; close-off non-starters in this section of the plan by outlining any key options you have reached and explain why.
  • “Q” is pivotal questions. This is the strategic question that is the axis of the total proposition or plan. Make sure you include significant resources/options as opportunities before this section to avoid “rabbits being pulled out of the hat.” No solutions coming out from nowhere.
  • “A” stands for answer. The most compelling answer you can give to demonstrate that you can deliver the objectives/aims. And here you are fishing. The Answer should have people asking, “tell me how this works?” If they do, you know you have the fish on the hook.
  • “RE” are recommendations and evidence. To develop a plan into one that merits a decision, you need to answer two questions: “How will your recommendations work?” and “Why are we proposing these solutions?” This is where you rigorously check for Rabbits again, but also for Cockroaches – the questions you cannot answer, which will have the audience searching for more.

I practiced a lot after I came back from that training, improving my presentations skills in Power Point, making my presentations better, more structured, anticipating questions, preparing “hooks,” “caging the birds.” I became a “HiPo” (high potential) employee in that company, but I kept reflecting on why I left the company in less than five years and didn’t choose to keep going up, keep “selling” myself and my skills to the stakeholders through some nicely made PPTs?

My MBA studies made me think about this again, and my answer for now is: “Definitely, good presentation skills are an asset and can help you in your career.  But the corporate world is different, it can be the other side of a looking glass. Some companies exaggerate using presentations tools (such as Power Point) in internal and external communication, almost replacing good human interpersonal communication. People start talking in PPT, thinking in PPT and living in PPT. They abandon real communication and never come back to it, being stuck in a virtual world of Power Point, Excel and Prezi. So, we all want to be a better version of ourselves, but we need to understand how far we are willing to go in order to not lose the connection with ourselves.”

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Reflection one: “Why is communication important?”

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I grew up in the Soviet Union, a closed country where all the cool ideas were spread secretly, being considered the “poison of capitalist America.” No one taught me critical thinking, good communication, or freedom of choice. All we had at school was about the three main rules:

  • REPETITION, rule #1: “Repetition is mother of studies” (“Повторение – мать учения”),
  • DISCIPLINE, rule #2: “Discipline is mother of victory” (“Дисциплина-мать победы”), and
  • OBEDIENCE, rule #3: “Teacher is always right” ( “Учитель всегда прав”).

Obviously, the aim of communication was a minimum one: to show you are not a mute, to answer at school if asked, and to express your basic needs and emotions.

After 1993, I led quite an interesting and dynamic life. Therefore, I am a self-made and a self-taught person. Communication is among the toughest lessons of my life, so I am still learning and I will never stop. In my life I had different situations, jobs, hobbies, conflicts, and journeys which helped me to understand the value of communication. I also met a lot of people who showed me examples of bad and good communication, who motivated and disappointed me, helped and rejected me, learned from me and blamed me, loved and hated me. All of them are my “teachers.” Despite the fact that I am learning something every day, I had some important stages in understanding communication, which I want to share:

  • Bachelors degree in Romania. At the age of 17, my parents told me to believe in myself and sent me to study abroad. After studying at a Russian-language school I had to work hard to learn Romanian – the key to my diploma in law.

Learning #1: “Language is vital for a good communication. It looks like an obvious conclusion, but we never really think about it until we get in a situation when we don’t understand people around us.”

  • Entering the Bar and starting practicing law in Romania. At 22, after a lot of hard work, my dream came true, I became a barrister. To be a lawyer was not enough for me, I wanted to be a great one! So, I practiced public speaking to be persuasive in court.

Learning #2: “Good communication skills give you an advantage at your job.”

  • Teaching law at the university. As a young and promising lawyer with good communication skills, I was offered to compete for the position of instructor in one of the local universities. I got the job and spent six years teaching others.

Learning #3: “Patience is crucial for the teaching process, people are different – and this is a fact.”

  • My “business era”. In 2010 I decided to switch to the business world and started working for a transnational corporation.

Learning #4 : “The world of corporate communication is like a different planet you happened to land on. If you don’t learn the rules, tricks, requirements, and even the abbreviations you will not survive.”

  • Living in different countries/travelling/being married to a foreigner. I have lived and worked in Romania, Ukraine, and USA, now I am in Kyrgyzstan. I travelled to more than 20 other countries. I am married to a man from Texas.

Learning #5: “Cross-cultural difference can drive us crazy, to deal with it successfully we need to be fully aware of what it means in each case.”

  • Family relationship. I have a small family: my husband, my daughter, my mom and my brother. I love them and I want to see them happy, same they feel for me. Good communication is the fundament of family happiness; bad communication can easily destroy not only the happiness, but the family.

Learning #6: “To pay more attention to the communication with your dear people, we can change the company we work for, the country we live in, the neighbors and even friends, but we don’t choose our family. It’s something we have to deal with, and we better make them happy.”

  • Life. Interpersonal relations are heavily influenced by stereotypes, habits, perceptions, and emotions. This influence can be good or bad, but it definitely can’t be avoided.

Learning #7: “We don’ need to avoid it, we just have to be fully aware of this phenomenon and build our communication accordingly in a constructive and efficient way. We have to stay focused on the message we want to deliver.”

Learning #8: “People don’t have superpowers; they cannot read my mind, so I must communicate clearly. Me and my husband have a rule: “no passive-aggressive behavior, we speak.”

Communication works! It makes us human, but good communication makes us better people who can build a better world.

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