This week we will have a short series based upon themes from Venice. The symbol of Venice is the Lion of St. Mark. The use of this symbol led to the maxim ‘straight from the lion’s mouth’. This adage came about because the Republic of Venice had its own hotline system where citizens could report misconduct. A citizen could write down his concern on paper and literally put the message into the mouth of statues of lion heads placed around the City. This system was originally set up to be anonymous but later changed to require that a citizen had to write his name down when submitting a message.
So, once again, using Venice as inspiration for a compliance topic, today I would like to review some best practices regarding a compliance hotline.
Get the word out. Allocate a portion of your time and budget to promoting the corporate hotline through multiple channels. Deliver in-person presentations where possible. Do not think of the promotional initiative as a one-time effort. It is important to remind employees regularly, through in-person communications, via e-mail, or through intranets, newsletters, and so on, that this resource is available to them.
Train all your employees. Getting employees to use the system is one half of the challenge; ensuring they use it properly is the other half. This is where training becomes essential. Make sure people understand what types of activities or observations are appropriate for reporting and which are not. Company leaders also need to understand the role the hotline plays in the organizational culture, and the importance of their visible support for this compliance initiative.
Take a look at the data. Use the data derived from or through the hotline to identify unexpected trends or issues. Isolate the data by location and department to identify micro-trends that could indicate problems within a subset of your corporate culture. Analyzing the data can help you stay a step ahead of emerging issues.
Response is critical to fairness in the system. Seeing a hotline system in action in this way can go a long way toward dispelling employee fears of being ostracized or experiencing retaliation because if they see that their concerns are heard clearly and addressed fairly, they will learn to view the hotline as a valuable conduit. If your compliance group responds promptly and appropriately to hotline complaints, you can ensure robust participation and ongoing success.
I am reminded how much the western world has to thank the Republic of Venice. From the forms of republican democracy that the US Founding Fathers drew from to helping to establish a world-wide trade and banking system which still reverberates today. But, if you look closer, ancient Venice had many good government techniques which also still inform the modern world. Straight from the lion’s mouth to your company’s compliance hotline is just one of them.