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HR must champion a speak up culture

”Speak up or Shut up” is exactly the attitude we are trying to avoid.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant so the saying goes. In a dysfunctional organisation there are too many dark corners. People quickly learn that speaking truth to power makes you unpopular even disloyal . Feeling free to express doubts and concerns, getting things out in the open is an effective way of dealing with abuse and corruption.  It results in better decision making since information is not censured. It   promotes a healthier work environment where people feel secure and trusted which in turn reduces turnover and makes the place more attractive to recruits. So who is responsible for establishing a strong speak up environment and what part do HR play?
In the past HR’s role in many organisations was reactive, the people you went to with a grievance about your manager or colleagues. It was the responsibility of managers to talk to their staff, to share information and to listen to any suggestions or concerns. Management styles differed but the general tone was set from the top. In recent years HR has become more strategic. Often taking the lead in workforce planing , (onboarding, recruitment and retention) Health and Wellbeing ( absenteeism) Equality, Diversity and Inclusion ( misogyny, homophobia, racism, bullying and harassment) employee engagement ( staff satisfaction surveys) and management development. So it is logical that HR would be champion of a , “ Speak Up” environment.
And like all these other strategies the most important role of HR is to get ownership from the organisations leadership. In some ways it’s ironic that HR should be making the business case for a, “Speak Up” environment and not operational managers. But it is usually an alliance of like minded people who push the idea. Once the idea is recognised as good for business /the organisation HR may well find themselves tasked with coming up with some specific actions that will promote a ,”Speak Up “ culture. The problem they face is that this is mostly a question of trust, employees trust in the organisations policies and procedures and how they are applied and more generally trust in management. HR can certainly influence the way policies and procedures are viewed.
They can influence managers behaviour by the quality and helpfulness of the advice they give. HR’s input into management development can ensure there is an emphasis on people management skills. HR can promote the idea of performance feedback to managers to strengthen their insight into how their behaviour affects their team and colleagues. This can be done by 260 degree feedback or more effectively by accesses to an independent management coach who sits in at a variety of management meetings ( team meeting, supervision session, partnership meeting, corporate working group, workshop) observes the individual and provides helpful feedback.
But the biggest challenge faced by HR in helping to nurture a  “Speak Up” environment is convincing senior management to take the feedback seriously and not simply dismiss it as, “they would say that won’t they”. And not let their concern for the reputation of the organisation override their other responsibility.

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