This article was originally published in Fast Company.
Schools don’t teach whistleblowing, it’s not encouraged behavior in corporate America, and often whistleblowers are portrayed as criminals.
But while the average person knows of popular whistleblowers in the media like Snowden or Manning, few understand that they, too, are whistleblowers every time they suggest a change or improvement at work.
When someone blows the whistle, it’s not about taking their company down, it’s about suggesting improvements. And through this feedback, you can gain an honest insight into how your company is truly doing.
If you don’t address the issues your whistleblowers bring to your attention, you could have a much more expensive problem on your hands down the road.
Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls of all those brands being dragged through the mud by encouraging whistleblowers in your organization:
1. PRACTICE AN OPEN-DOOR POLICY
People are often afraid to discuss problems with their boss, or sometimes even talk to them at all. You can alleviate this by showing your employees that you adhere to a true open-door policy.
No matter how busy you are, always greet employees and find time to meet with them on a regular basis. Foster an environment where a level of healthy discourse is welcomed with open arms.
2. PROVIDE AN ANONYMOUS SUGGESTION BOX
Some problems need to be addressed anonymously. People simply don’t feel comfortable breaking ranks to bring up issues they feel involve possible illegal or immoral acts they witness at work. Some entry-level employees will only mention a problem once and assume if it were important, someone above them would do something.
Snitching on other employees may be seen as sinister, and your people may be embarrassed to speak up. Ensure you have a form, inbox, or number they can contact for anonymous tips. The police have prevented and solved a lot of crimes with this way; your business could flourish from anonymous tips as well.
3. WALK YOUR TALK
Make sure you lead the way you want to be followed. If you take shortcuts, your employees will notice. The work environment you build isn’t just what you say; it’s also what you do.
Just like a child knows the difference between what their parents say and do, your employees know the same about you as well. If you rip off your customers or don’t stand behind your products and services, why would your employees?
4. TAKE THE GOOD AND THE BAD
Don’t just ignore bad feedback or brush it off because you’re doing well. You may be making money right now, but one day you may not be.
Negative feedback was all it took to land Donald Sterling in hot water after Vivian Stiviano blew the whistle on him. If the NBA ignored this negative feedback, they’d lose fans, sponsors, and, ultimately, money.
There are SEO services that can help you hide negative feedback online, but it’s expensive, and the more negative actions your company takes, the costlier your PR gets.
Listen to negative feedback wherever you get it, especially internally.
5. SHOW YOU’RE LISTENING
People stop going to church when they feel God isn’t listening. They stop voting when their government isn’t listening. If you don’t give proof you’re listening to your customers and employees, they’ll stop talking and eventually abandon you.
Implement small improvements–make the effort to show you value input and implement suggestions. Reward your people for speaking up, even if it’s not what you wanted to hear. Every step you take counts, so move in the right direction.
Treat everyone in business, whether it’s your boss, partner, employees, or customers, with respect, and they’ll do the same for you, building a solid brand in the process.
—Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. Penny is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, High Times, and Main Street. He documents his experiences blowing the whistle on the banks and working with Anonymous on his blog.